Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 1:27 am | Fair 56º


Santa Barbara School Board Cuts $6 Million from Budget

District officials are forced to make tough decisions, including eliminating staff and teacher positions and increasing class sizes

In front of a packed house, the Santa Barbara school board on Tuesday night carved $6 million from its $119 million budget for 2010-11, meaning the schools next fall will make do with dozens of fewer teachers, larger class sizes, fewer school psychologists and significantly less money for athletic trainers and routine classroom maintenance, among many other misfortunes.

Tuesday’s action marked the fourth consecutive year the board has had to gut millions in programs and personnel, and essentially means that the total budget of Santa Barbara’s K-12 school system is 20 percent smaller than in 2006-07, despite that it still serves about 16,000 students.

“We trimmed the fat a long time ago,” school board member Annette Cordero said. “We are barreling now through the flesh, and getting to the bone.”

As if that weren’t bad enough, California’s historically dire budget situation is such that the Santa Barbara school board may have to come back for a second round of surgery in May, Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith said. Legislators in Sacramento are grappling with a $20 billion deficit, and taking more from local cities and schools isn’t out of the question.

Accounting for nearly half of the damage Tuesday night was the board’s approval of a plan to increase class sizes in the junior high and high schools to an average of either 32 or 34, depending on the school, up from current class sizes, which generally range between 25 and 30. The plan will result in the loss of 38 teachers, saving $2.8 million.

On a positive note, 26 teachers are retiring, which will bring down the number of necessary layoffs, but about half of those retirements are coming from the elementary district, and the reductions need to happen in the secondary district.

Another area that took a major hit was school maintenance, including everything from fixing broken toilets to replacing burned-out light bulbs. The board on Tuesday reduced that budget by a third, saving $1.2 million. At least three full-time workers will lose their jobs.

Matt Gentile, the labor relations representative for the maintenance staff, said that when he first came to Santa Barbara, he was struck by the exterior beauty of the local schools. But he said the buildings’ interior is another story.

“You have toilets that are bagged because they leak,” he said. “You have broken light fixtures. It’s a terrible condition, and cutting the staff now is not going to help that.”

Most sympathetic to his arguments was board President Ed Heron.

“If kids have a good environment, they are going to learn,” he said. “If they have a bad environment, it’s going to cause trouble.”

Cordero countered that cutting maintenance might be a lesser of necessary evils.

“I’d rather have a student in a cardboard box with a great teacher ... than in a beautiful room without the program,” she said.

Advocacy seemed to pay off Tuesday night, as the board backed off from some proposed cuts that drew the fiercest resistance.

The district office, for instance, suggested cutting every health assistant — one for each of the district’s 23 schools. (The proposal did not call for eliminating any of the district’s six nurses.) The move would have saved $571,000, but the health assistants and parents showed up in force to rail against the proposal.

Louise De Voto, a parent of a student at Washington Elementary, said she relies on the health assistant at the school to help her diabetic son regulate his blood sugar.

“If the blood sugar is too low, he could go into seizure and may die,” she said. “If his blood sugar is too high, he could develop keytones ... he could die. This isn’t something that can be taken care of by a secretary.”

In the end, the board cut only one position, saving $36,000.

Psychologists, too, showed up in force to protest the proposal to eliminate five of them.

School psychologist Christina Aguirre-Kolb warned of a local increase in self-injurious behavior.

“Students are coming to me and talking about wanting to kill themselves, wanting to cut themselves (and) not being able to handle the pressures of their life,” she said.

The board voted to cut three psychologists, saving $318,000. The cut will require just two layoffs, as one psychologist is retiring.

Also among the cuts were the youth service specialists who work with high school students struggling with alcohol and drug abuse, though the counselors at the junior high schools were spared. The move will save $75,000.

Other cuts include:

» Community Day School, serving junior high students struggling to succeed in the traditional classroom setting ($262,000)

» Reducing the budget for athletic trainers by about a third ($52,875)

» Enacting a two-day furlough for administrators ($67,800)

» Eliminating support staff at the district office ($49,000)

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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