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Santa Barbara School Board Seeks a $3 Million Cut Above the Rest

GATE, small class sizes, high school counselors and even athletic trainers are on the chopping block

As California weathers an economic disaster, the Santa Barbara school board is sharpening the budget knife, preparing to carve $3 million from its $120 million budget. And that’s the best-case scenario.

At risk for Santa Barbara’s K-12 schools are at least 22 teaching jobs and a wide array of services and programs. The cuts have the potential to affect programs that in years past would have been considered untouchable — programs like Gifted and Talented Education, small class sizes in grades K-3, high school counselors, the block schedule at San Marcos High, high school athletic trainers and freshmen athletics.

District administrators Tuesday night also outlined some unconventional possibilities for boosting revenue. These include charging people for parking during sporting events and collecting a school-bus fee from families who aren’t poor.

Final decisions will be made April 28, but the board members Tuesday night revealed their leanings.

Particularly at risk could be San Marcos’ beloved block schedule, a unique system in which classes last 90 minutes instead of the traditional 55. The program appears to be at risk because funding the block schedule so far has required more teachers per capita, and the board seems keen on bringing the school’s staffing in line with that of the other two high schools. This would reduce the staff at San Marcos by eight teachers and save $663,000.

“I think we have to do it,” said school board trustee Susan Deacon. “I know the block schedule is valuable at San Marcos, but I also think it’s a matter of equity. It’s such a huge savings.”

This year’s list of potential budget cuts is long, but for all of the state’s economic turmoil — California is among the nation’s hardest hit this recession — it could be worse. A year ago, for instance — nearly six months before the mortgage crisis became big news — the board cut considerably more: $4.1 million. However, Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith said the cuts may need to go deeper if Californians do not pass five initiatives on the May 19 ballot meant to generate revenue.

Some board members Tuesday night also seemed resigned to the notion of increasing class sizes for students in grades K-3. Currently, the district keeps those class sizes down to 20 students. Increasing the size to an average of 25 would save $539,000.

“I don’t think there is any way around that,” Deacon said.

Trustee Bob Noel suggested eliminating high school athletic trainers for a savings of $167,000.

“I’ve been on the board long enough to remember when we had no athletic trainers,” he said. “It was not all that painful. Lots of schools don’t have them. We got along for a decade without them.”

But trustee Annette Cordero disagreed.

“I think it’s a student safety issue,” she said.

On Tuesday night, board members also revealed which programs they intend to spare on the administrator-generated list of potential cuts.

Among the programs mentioned by some trustees was a suggestion to quit assessing second-graders for GATE eligibility.

Several parents spoke out against this cut, noting it would save the district all of $3,500.

“These children need stimulation — they need a special class,” said Laura Pomerantz, a Washington School parent.

Deacon and fellow board member Kate Parker said they want to keep the program intact.

Several board members also wrote off the idea to raise nearly $150,000 by charging families who aren’t poor about $783 a year to ride the bus.

“$783 a year is really an unrealistic amount to expect people to pay,” Cordero said.

Added Deacon: “I just don’t think people will pay it — they will end up carpooling.”

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

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