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School Boardmembers Kate Parker (left) and Susan Christol Deacon

Paul Wellman

School Boardmembers Kate Parker (left) and Susan Christol Deacon


Dire Straits and High Hopes

School Board Looks to Save $8 Million with Unpaid Furloughs


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Facing a possible shortfall of $10 million, Santa Barbara’s five school board members voted unanimously to try to bridge $8 million of that by imposing 10 days of unpaid leave on district teachers, administrators, and support staff. Whether they succeed or not depends on the school district’s ability to negotiate such an arrangement with the bargaining units representing employees. Negotiations have been scheduled for March 21 and 24. Boardmembers Kate Parker and Susan Christol Deacon pushed the most forcefully for furloughs — and for the largest number of furlough days — arguing that it would be better for the students and teachers alike to spread the pain evenly among as many workers as possible rather than to cut some while sparing others. Without such concessions, boardmembers agonized over the cuts they might well have to make to school health workers, librarians, and guidance counselors, all of whom have already suffered significant staffing reductions in recent years. Two years ago, the district reduced the number of guidance counselors by nine; six years ago, the board opted to eliminate all but one certificated librarian. One mother testified how the school nurse saved the day when her daughter had convulsions at school. “Her teacher was honest and told me she didn’t know what to do,” she recounted.

In the past four years, the district has been forced to trim $20 million from its budget, partly in response to declining enrollments, but mostly due to the state’s chronic budget deficit, now weighing in at $25 billion. If tax increases enacted by former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger are not put before statewide voters and approved this June, the district would find itself short by $4.6 million. And if the plan to unify Santa Barbara elementary and secondary districts — two separate legal entities — falls through, it will be out another $6 million. That’s where the $10 million comes from. By law, teachers have to be notified by April that they may not have a job the next year; support staff — clerical, administrative, and facilities — have a few more weeks. Because of this $10-million question mark, more than 200 teachers — both tenured and yearly — will get notices that they might be receiving pink slips.

The good news, to the extent there is any, is that efforts to unify the school districts — which would result in higher per-pupil reimbursements from the state — has encountered no opposition. The only question is whether the state and county bureaucracies that process such requests can mobilize quickly enough to approve the application by the June deadline. The bad news, at least from the School Board’s perspective, is that it remains doubtful that Republican leaders in the State Legislature will allow Governor Jerry Brown to place his request to extend the tax increases to state voters. A two-thirds majority is required to place such a request on the ballot, and, currently, two Republicans are required in both the Assembly and the Senate to meet that threshold. Five Republicans had been negotiating with Brown, despite threats of political reprisals from party enforcers, like Tony Strickland, who represents Santa Barbara. Boardmember Kate Parker called out Strickland by name on Tuesday, urging anyone attending or watching the School Board meeting to contact Strickland to object.

What’s on the table is an intricate dance by which the school calendar is shortened by 10 days, five of which teachers currently spend on professional development and training. To make up the difference so students don’t lose actual class time, the district is proposing to add 15 minutes onto the end of every school day. From the teachers’ standpoint, this translates to a pay cut of 5.4 percent. The teachers have agreed to go without pay increases for each of the last three years. While other districts have experienced work furloughs, this would mark the first time Santa Barbara has done so.

Flying in the face of budget constraints, the board voted — in a separate action — to reinstate $95,000 in funding to keep outreach worker Ismael Huerta on the district payroll through the end of next year. Huerta works with many kids falling through the cracks and especially with those in danger of gang involvement. He was praised by parents, students, and fellow school employees for making a significant difference.

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