Fewer teachers, zero instructional aides, bigger class sizes, and possible “combo classes” — combining students from different grade levels in a single classroom — will likely become the new normal at Hope School District until it can solve financial woes so dire it’s “facing a significant risk of insolvency,” according to the Santa Barbara Department of Education.
Before a crowded auditorium of parents and teachers Monday night, Superintendent Anne Hubbard said, “We are nowhere near out of this situation; we continue to watch every penny,” before choking up and urging her Board of Trustees to approve laying off six full-time teachers and three part-time reading specialists. “These are incredible people I care deeply about,” she said. The anticipated savings in salary and benefits is roughly $700,000.
The layoffs, which will take place before the start of the 2017-18 school year, add to cuts made late last year, when three intervention teachers, 19 instructional aides, three librarians, and two health clerks were given notice. Those jobs, however, were saved through the end of this school year by a $255,000 donation raised by the district’s Educational Foundation, run by parent volunteers.
The scramble began last summer, when district number crunchers, independent auditors, and the County Education Office were all caught off guard by rapidly mounting special-education costs, a steady climb in retirement payouts, and ongoing cost-of-living expenses, such as water rate hikes. By the start of the 2016-17 school year, the district found itself $400,000 in the hole, a big number that roughly doubled when state-mandated reserves were taken into account.
For the district’s recovery plan, the county’s ed department has allowed a one percent reserve — which Hubbard admitted will be very tough to meet — by the end of this year, a 4 percent reserve for next year, and 5.4 percent for 2018-19. For her part, Hubbard declined a stipend payment toward her PhD and turned down a 2 percent raise that was part of her hiring package last spring. Every administrator has taken voluntary cuts, as well. “Every kind of cut is on the table,” Hubbard said, adding that the district may look into closing one of its three schools.
Another town hall meeting is scheduled for March 6 in the Kris Sugich Auditorium at Hope Elementary.