For four months now the Santa Monica-Malibu School District’s Board of Education has been discussing California’s budget crisis and its consequences locally. Last Thursday, the discussions ended and deep cuts were made to the District’s 2009-2010 budget.
Perhaps the most controversial cut made on June 4 was at Santa Monica High School (SAMOHI) where the number of houses/small learning communities was reduced from six to five in order to save approximately $495,000. The house system was implemented in 2003 and its main feature has been the organization of SAMOHI’s students into houses of approximately 550 students with 25 teachers, two advisors, and one outreach specialist per house. The house system’s purpose is to give students a more personalized education.
Board members wrestled with the consequences of also cutting two house advisors and an outreach specialist to save an additional $220,000 but decided this was not in the best interest of the students. Superintendent Tim Cuneo noted that the decision to reduce the number of houses by one was based upon the enrollment decrease since the house system began, the loss of district revenues and the projection that SAMOHI student enrollment will not be increasing over the next six years.
Prior to reducing the house number, the Board heard from a large number of SAMOHI parents, students and staff who urged them to retain the six-house structure. House Advisor Irene Ramos told the Board “The proposed cut is devastating and far greater than the what you can see on your budget sheet. A house represents a family unit. The children of our house develop strong close ties with the adults in our houses.”
SAMOHI parent Richard McKinnon was concerned that “no viable plan was on the table tonight that gives anyone any confidence that this shift from six houses to five is well in hand and will be accomplished with a timetable that is relevant to the kids.”
Also controversial was the Board’s decision to increase class sizes throughout the District in order to save $1.9 million. Their motion to approve this reduction included wording that class size should be reduced as soon as it is financially prudent.
Cuts totaling $300,00 were made to contracts for district office departments which would come from cutting legal costs, technology, and communications consultants, or other contracts. Reductions of $700,000 were also made in the District’s Special Education budget.
Lastly, $1 million in reductions will be made in a variety of Tier III categorical programs. The most significant of these will be the postponement of the purchase of textbooks and other instructional material and the reduction in professional development funds.
Board member Oscar De La Torre stressed that the District will have to continue to look at cutting costs “due to the current (State) budget situation so no rock will be left unturned.” The final budget for 2009-2010 will come back to the Board on June 25.
Board members also approved a revised School Facilities policy.