Monday, May 21 , 2018, 8:07 am | Partly Cloudy 56º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara School Board Considers Its Options for Making Up $10 Million Shortfall

Among the ideas discussed Tuesday night were increasing class sizes, shortening the school year and reducing staffing

The Santa Barbara School District has prepared for what may be the worst-case scenario in the most recent Fiscal Solvency Plan — $10 million slashed from next year’s expenses.

That figure is based on the uncertainty surrounding the effective date of unification, which could bring about $6 million in savings, and whether voters will extend temporary taxes in June. The district has a structural deficit of $5.6 million, and if the taxes aren’t extended, that will be another $4.6 million, according to Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith.

On Tuesday night, the Santa Barbara school board reviewed a long list of potential cuts that will be further considered in later meetings.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” Superintendent Brian Sarvis said, adding that even in the best case, there are likely to be more cuts next year and the following year.

Staff already made midyear adjustments so the current year will balance out, including some transfers between funds and a freeze on hiring, overtime and nonessential purchase orders that was enacted in January.

The options include shortening the school year, reducing or eliminating staff positions, and increasing class sizes. Some cost-saving measures require labor concessions, so if negotiations don’t work out, Smith the school board would have to find alternatives.

He said that last year, negotiations yielded some wiggle room instead of hard caps for class-size ratios.

Overall, board members asked staff to bring back information on gradual cuts instead of all-for-nothing elimination options and on making cuts to staffing as equitable as possible among teachers, support staff and administrators.

Board president Annette Cordero said what’s left has survived $20 million in cuts already, making these decisions extremely difficult.

“I’ve never had to cut $10 million at once,” board member Kate Parker said. “So this feels horrible, but I’ve never had hope as I have this time that all cuts could be rescinded.”

Board member Susan Deacon said she never imagined considering a shorter school year but that she isn’t instantly dismissing the idea right away even though she thinks it is “probably one of the worst things we can do.”

The most talked-about items included the following:

Increasing Class Sizes

Measure H funding is used for keeping ninth-grade math classes at a 20-to-1 ratio and provides support to foreign language, science, math and technology funding for the secondary district. However, keeping classes at that size next year would take up $600,000 of the annual $1 million Measure H funding.

Board member Ed Heron said voters probably didn’t imagine 60 percent of those parcel tax revenues going to that one purpose, and he wanted to know the negative impact on other areas funded by those monies. Smith said that in hindsight, the district didn’t fully know the costs of class-size reductions.

Until now, the parcel taxes covered 3.5 of the 9.5 positions necessary for those class sizes, but the proposed item would double that, with an additional cost of $303,555.

A related item is ninth-grade English class sizes, which were limited to a 25-to-1 ratio by a school board decision. It’s not connected to Measure H funding. The unrestricted general fund is contributing 4.6 full-time positions to that program, and increasing class sizes to 35:1 would save about $402,427.

The third option was to increase K-3 class sizes from 25 to 35 students.

“Class size reduction funding has not kept pace with the increased cost to operate the program,” according to the staff report, and state penalties don’t increase after a 25-to-11 ratio. Therefore, only savings — and no further penalties — would be accumulated if classes increased. With 35 students to a class, the district would save $1.23 million.

Shortening the School Year

By adding 15 minutes per day, the district could shorten the school year to 175 days and not lose instructional time, for a savings of $4 million, staff said. Teachers would take a 5.4 percent pay reduction — assuming that could be negotiated with labor groups — and it’s likely that other groups would be furloughed for nonworking days as well.

The school board also could change the number of graduation credits required from 240 to 220, reducing the number of elective classes students would have to take before getting their diplomas. That alone could save $684,233, documents show.

Staffing

During public comment, Santa Barbara Teachers Association president Layne Wheeler asked the board to “keep the cuts as far from the classroom as you possibly can” as teachers will work with the district but feel they’ve “shouldered our burden and more” in the past.

If the school year is shortened, there could be 10 days of furloughs for teachers, classified staff and administrators, which would rack up about $4 million, $3.8 million and $190,000, respectively, according to fiscal services director Meg Jette.

Staffing reduction options include cutting assistant principals, clerical staff, custodial staff, grounds staff, district office support positions, school health assistants or nurses, library technicians, duplicated special-education program specialist positions and counselors.

During public comment, nurses and health assistants said the two groups rely on each other to work as a team, and nontrained staff such as secretaries and teachers wouldn’t be able to handle the additional burden. An assistant said one school typically gets hundreds of students in its health office per month.

For school counselors, the option outlined in the staff report would increase the student-counselor ratio from 394-to-1 to 680-to-1, which was the California average a few years ago. The national average is 460-to-1.

The Fiscal Solvency Plan will be examined again at the March 1 and March 8 board meetings. Click here to read the report and entire list of options.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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