<strong>To the bone:</strong> There were no easy answers this week for Santa Barbara School Board President Ed Heron (left) and District Superintendent Brian Sarvis (right), as they need to find $6 million worth of budget reductions by the end of the month.
Paul Wellman

Though it wasn’t really his fault, Eric Smith sure wasn’t going to win any popularity contests with the crowd of mostly faculty, staff, and parents at the Santa Barbara School Board meeting this week. Thanks to the public education-destroying realities of the latest California state budget proposal, the Santa Barbara School Board needs to slash their general fund budget for the fourth time in the past year, after enduring several million in cuts to their roughly $119 million operating budget. District Deputy Superintendent Smith is the man tasked with figuring out where the next $6 million in necessary reductions can come from.

To that end, on Tuesday night, he presented a visibly pained board with a menu of potential reductions that, among other things, equal the unavoidable loss of teaching positions and popular school programs, bigger class sizes, and drastic reduction in school site maintenance. As Boardmember Annette Cordero lamented during the meeting, “All the things that were priorities to cut have already been cut. … Now we are getting to the things that we have all felt needed to be saved.”

The stage for yet another budgetary bloodbath was set early last month when Governor Schwarzenegger, despite promises to the contrary, proposed some $2 billion in additional public education cuts for the fiscal year 2010-11 as part of his overall state budget plan. According to Smith’s calculations, despite having already shaved nearly $12 million off their general fund in the last four years alone, the board needs to find $6 million in reductions this month in order to keep things fiscally sound in the year ahead. And, as Smith said told board members on Tuesday, “That might not even be the end of it.”

With the $6 million mark identified, Smith presented to the board a laundry list of possible cutting options totalling just shy of $6.7 million. Looking initially at simple penny-wise maneuvers — like implementing voiceover Internet protocols for some elementary schools instead of traditional phone lines, to applying for state waivers on the unused site fees incurred by district holdings at their Hidden Valley and Tatum properties, to rebidding trash services at schools in unincorporated areas of the county — Smith and his staff were able to come up with a relatively painless portion of the cuts.

However, the bulk of the proposals come from more controversial means like doing away with summer school for all ages save for only the most credit-needy eighth graders and graduating seniors, cutting five of the district’s 18 school psychologists, slashing the maintenance budget by roughly one-third (a move that would equal numerous layoffs and fairly severe service reductions for things like clogged toilets, broken light fixtures, and beat-up classrooms), the elimination of the Home School Santa Barbara program, cutting two full-time jobs from the current roster of junior high school administrators, doing away with the district’s Safety, Welfare and Attendance administrative position, and cutting funding for crossing guards. (Though the last would, presumably, be picked up by the City of Santa Barbara.)

Also on the list, and easily the biggest source of potential savings as well as the worst news for teachers and students alike, is a plan to enforce the class-size maximums for all the junior high and high schools in the district. By requiring a 33:1 teacher ratio for all classes (it would potentially be 35:1 for Santa Barbara and San Marcos High), the district could save roughly $3.3 million and would eliminate 45 full-time teaching positions in the process.

“This is my fourth year in a row going through this process, and it is incredibly depressing. … It is really hard to be up here in this situation once again,” opined Kate Parker.

For their part, the four boardmembers present Tuesday night (Trustee Bob Noël was home sick) were well aware of the gut-wrench that awaits them as they contemplate the potential — though necessary — cuts. “This is my fourth year in a row going through this process, and it is incredibly depressing. … It is really hard to be up here in this situation once again,” opined Kate Parker. The idea of maxing out class sizes in the secondary district, cutting cash for school site upkeep, and charging Associated Student Bodies from the various junior high and high schools an indirect cost rate for “doing business” on school grounds seemed particularly tough to swallow for all the boardmembers.

However, with very little wiggle room between the total amount of cuts presented on Smith’s menu and the actual number the board has to reach, it is all but certain that a few of these items, at least in some form, will have to become a reality.

The rubber will meet the road in the budget talks at the next board meeting, on February 23, when a final vote is expected.


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