With budget cuts looming and decisions needing to be made soon, the Santa Monica-Malibu School Board discussed budget priorities at its March 4 meeting, and Superintendent Tim Cuneo announced the layoff of 61 employees prior to the March 15 deadline for notification.
The layoffs were not voted on because the Board gave approval at its last meeting to lay off as many as 92 teachers, counselors, and nurses. The number was revised to 62 because of the imminent retirement of 23 teachers at the end of this school year.
Some of these layoffs may be turned around by June, if additional funds from the passage of Measure A, the parcel tax, and other funds are made available.
Four administrative positions will also be cut and Cuneo himself is taking a ten percent reduction in the allowance for his housing, phone, and automobile expenses.
In regard to other ways to save money, the Board discussed budget planning. They are looking at reductions in conferences and travel, the implementation of an energy reduction plan, and savings from furlough days. Nevertheless, there is a gap between the estimated budget and the actual numbers.
The money that might be generated from passage of Measure A would be about 5.7 million for the 2010-2011 school year, said Assistant Superintendent Janece Maez. “But some reduction will still be necessary.
“The State still has a serious budget deficit. How it will affect us we don’t know yet, but school districts are advised to continue on this course.”
Board members wanted staff to give them a summary of the discrepancies between estimated and actual deficits. Oscar de la Torre suggested that the Board be given a study of health benefits for several local school districts to see how SMMUSD’ s program compares in benefits and costs to other health programs.
Among the positions affected by the 61 layoffs will be those of the elementary school music program. During public comment, the Board heard many speakers on the subject. They included Aggie Norris, a musician, music teacher, and Santa Monica Schools alumna, who expressed gratitude that her music career had been sparked by her exposure to music training while in elementary school. She quoted a police officer who had told her: “In thirty years on the force, I never once arrested a teenager who played a musical instrument.”
With parents and students chiming in on the positive educational, career-building, and personal benefits of music teaching, Board members seemed sympathetic to the cause. Board member Ralph Mechur remarked that he appreciated the more than 300 emails he had received from the community about music education.
“My sense is that the Board will do anything possible to maintain these programs. Worrying about them will hopefully stir people to work for passage of Measure A.”
Still, de la Torre, summing up his thoughts on the budget, said that he was disappointed. “These are the saddest years I’ve spent as a Board member. When I started out ten years ago, I thought we would build.”
Mirror Contributing Writerlynne@smmirror.com