California’s deepening budget crisis is causing the School District to have to make some difficult budget decisions. At a joint Budget Workshop on March 4 between School Board members and the District’s Financial Oversight Committee (FOC), District officials explained that they anticipated a $4 million reduction in the District’s budget would be necessary for the 2009-2010 school year. Some of the specific recommendations made to attain the reduction were: reducing staff at Santa Monica High School and at the District; office, reducing the number of nurses, elementary music teachers, the intervention counselors; increasing class sizes; reducing Special Education costs; and reducing outside contracts. The community did not receive the bleak news very well. Santa Monica High School parent Richard McKinnon told the Board there was “not enough range of options being offered tonight.” The options are the same as three months ago. A large contingency of parents from Samohi urged the Board not to consider any administrative cuts suggested by District officials that would cause the school to be reorganized into anything less than its current successful six house-system. They requested instead that the Board consider an alternative cost-reducing strategy that was recommended by the school’s principal, Hugo Pedroza.At both the Budget Workshop and the March 5 School Board meeting, Cindy Rossman , chairs the District’s Visual Arts and Performing Arts (VAPA) District Advisory Committee, urged the School Board to consider furloughing all administrators as a “more equitable way to attack the cuts” instead of reducing the number of administrators. She and others also spoke about the many benefits of the District’s music program and how important it was to retain its VAPA coordinator position. Claudia Landis, who is a parent of two children in the District, noted the music program “addresses the achievement gap because it includes all socioeconomic groups.”The District’s Director of Health Services, Jane Jeffries, spoke at both meetings of the many benefits the District’s nursing program provides and stressed that during these tough economic times visits to the nurse’s office were on the increase because families were losing their health insurance. She also pointed out that “healthy children learn better,” and come to school more often, which helps boost District revenues because of the California’s emphasis on the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) formula. Cynthia Torres, who chairs The District’s Financial Oversight Committee, told the Board at its March 5 meeting that the “District may need to cut more than $4 million for the 2009-2010 school year because the state’s estimate of its revenues may be too optimistic.” She stated that it would be better “to cut more now so less cuts would have to be done later.” She also urged the Board to “seek flexibility [when making cuts] to allow for flexibility in changing economic conditions.” The Board had to take action at the March 5 meeting to notify any individuals it may lay off or reassign because state law requires that they be notified by March 15. Prior to the vote, the Board emphasized if budget conditions improve these layoffs and reassignments would not be necessary. Board member Maria Leon-Vasquez stated that she would prefer the Board to make cuts that were the “least offensive to the kids of greatest need.” She voted against reducing the seven administrators recommended by District staff because Samohi would be the hardest hit by this. To her, any administrative cuts should include “administrators throughout the District to create more flexibility.” Board member Oscar de la Torre also voted no on giving notice to the seven administrators, but the rest of the Board approved their notification. The Board also voted against reducing the nursing staff and the elementary music staff. Board member Jose Escarce explained his no vote by stating, “I can’t support reducing nursing services because they are essential to children with chronic illnesses … to children with special needs, and to children who get hurt.” Regarding the music program, he noted the District “really does the music program superbly. Any organization that takes the thing it does exceptionally well and tries to diminish it is making a mistake.”
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