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School Board Hears Budget Update, Approves Funds to Finish Wireless Project

Santa Barbara Superintendent Dave Cash says employee furloughs, vacant positions and early retirements would be necessary to cover midyear cuts

The Santa Barbara Unified School District will be able to balance its budget, but only through employee furloughs, early retirements and keeping positions vacant, Superintendent Dave Cash said Tuesday night.

“The governor has made this a very short conversation for us,” Cash said.

School districts are likely to face millions of dollars in midyear “trigger cuts” if Gov. Jerry Brown’s November tax initiative fails, and Cash said the Santa Barbara district has to make those cuts now because it’s impossible to do so without notice because of employee notification laws.

Cash and school board members thanked employees for negotiating furlough days, which is yielding $3.4 million in savings but created a shorter school year and pay cuts for staff.

The threat of midyear cuts means another $2.5 million must go, Cash said, but that is being covered by early retirements, reorganizing the district office and keeping 45 positions vacant.

“Fewer will be with us next year, and those that are will be making less money,” he said.

The business office will present a balanced budget to the board in June.

The district has relied on locally approved parcel tax and general obligation bond measures to fill in some of the gaps left by diminished state funding, such as paying for the districtwide wireless project. The board approved another $900,000 for the project since the original plan underestimated the amount of work and infrastructure replacement.

Every school’s wireless should still be completed by the first day of school in fall, but the previous project plan had no clear vision and, in retrospect, would not be practical for the technology requirements of the Common Core and possibility of having devices for every student in classrooms, Cash said. The district has already spent about $1.6 million on that project, according to district staff.

In addition, more components than expected had to be replaced, and a maintenance agreement was developed to keep firmware updates and device malfunctions covered for more time.

Todd Ryckman, the district’s technology strategist and a teacher at Dos Pueblos High School, said the system still will be controlled from the district office as planned, but each school site will have devices to keep the Internet traffic local so one classroom’s data doesn’t impact the whole network. There will be faster speeds that way, too, and Cash said he is talking to Cox Communications about getting more bandwidth for the district.

Ryckman and the district’s facilities staff have been working with Aruba Wireless and Apple engineers — since many schools are implementing iPad-Apple flat-screen television packages in their classrooms — to get the system online.

“I’m in favor of doing this, but I’m just frustrated,” board member Ed Heron said. “We’ve been doing this since the end of 2009 and approved tremendous amounts of money.”

Others agreed.

“Testing is moving to online testing and so are so many other things,” board member Monique Limon said. “I know we’re moving in the right direction, but I’m appreciative of Mr. Heron’s comments because a year ago we were all led to believe we were absolutely moving in the right direction.”

Funds from the 2010 general obligation bonds will be used to pay for the rest of the Aruba Wireless costs.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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