School board considers budget cuts

By: Cheri March The News Messenger
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Trustees of the local school board were faced with the reality of trimming fat on an already lean budget when they were presented with a budget committee’s final recommendations on Tuesday. According to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s current state budget, the Western Placer Unified School District expects a shortfall of $2.4 million for the 2008-09 school year. The budget committee, comprised of 15 people from all facets of the school district, was formed by Superintendent Scott Leaman in February to identify ways to come up with the projected deficit. At a May 20 board meeting, trustees will vote to approve the proposed cuts, the most controversial of which eliminates more than 20 employee positions, including the full-time principal position at Sheridan Elementary School and faculty staffing multiple programs at Lincoln High School. Though the state budget could change before it is formally adopted this summer, the district is required to send out final termination notices before then, said Leaman. Initially, notices were to be sent out May 15, but Leaman said the deadline likely will be extended for a week because the teachers’ union and the district did not agree on the notice language in time. “In many ways we are being tousled about, trying to adopt a budget when we don’t know how much revenue we will end up with,” he said. “We had to send out these notices … when at the end of the day we hope we can rescind some of them.” Other committee recommendations include increasing class size ratios to 24-1 in middle schools and 28-1 at the high school, eliminating kindergarten aides in classes with two teachers, leaving the high school’s independent study program vacant after the program’s teacher retires this year, reducing custodial services by 10 percent, eliminating overtime, raising lunch fees by 25 cents at all school levels, and making changes to the district’s transportation system. Trustees agreed that transportation was one of the most promising sources of savings. The budget committee recommended raising sports transportation fees to $120 per high school-level sport, allowing for two sports maximum, and eliminating athletic transportation entirely for middle school students. “The buses are coming back virtually empty from games … parents are coming to watch games and (students) are going home with mom and dad,” Leaman said. Home-to-school transportation fees could be increased as well and field trips capped at three per class. Leaman said that only approximately 1,000 of the district’s 6,000-plus students consistently ride buses. And approximately 600 students are likely riding on free or reduced-fare passes. For the cost of those students, “you’ve got yourself a principal, no teachers laid off and all your kindergarten aides back,” said trustee Paul Long. Board members suggested hiring a transportation company like Coach or looking into city transportation for nearby field trips. “I’d much rather have a few less buses and a few more aides or a principal,” said trustee Ana Stevenson. Earlier, Stevenson had appealed to keep Sheridan’s full-time principal, whose position would be replaced by a part-time principal. With the Highway 65 bypass linking to Sheridan, Stevenson said, the original position might soon have to be recreated if the community north of Lincoln grows as a result. “Sheridan is an integral part of the community and I think a lot of that has to do with Principal Kris Knutson stepping up to the plate to take ownership,” Stevenson said. “I think of (Knutson and the school) as almost a package deal.” Board President Paul Carras asked trustees to identify possible changes in the list, while keeping in mind the ultimate amount of reductions can’t change. “Whatever we decide not to cut, we have to assist administration in letting them know what to cut instead; how to make up the difference,” Carras said. Board member James McLeod requested more information about how schools would be affected by the cuts. “It’s one thing to look at numbers and staffing ratios … I’d really like to look at the impact to high school and middle school programs before we decide,” he said. The school board will meet next at 7 p.m. May 20 at Carlin C. Coppin Elementary School.