It’s an uncertain time for Coastside schools.
Without continued support from the school community, good news from the state of California about the budget, and a positive vote on an $81 million bond measure to take care of the $2.5 million structural deficit, the Cabrillo Unified School District will run out of options and money, said Superintendent Rob Gaskill.
Just last week the District handed out pink slips — provisional layoff notices to teachers and other district staff. All of the proposed reductions are being recommended based on uncertainty about state funding.
Potential program reductions include fewer elementary school teachers based on increased class sizes, two counselors, two assistant principals, one high school librarian, one teaching support coordinator, one half of the Director of Maintenance and Operations job, an operator, a clerk, and two custodial positions.
The work schedule for a number of other positions would be reduced as well.
“We're moving past the cutting to the bone stage,” said Gaskill. “We are now cutting into it.”
Specific teachers or staff members who might be laid off haven’t been announced, and it's not clear exactly how many layoffs there will be. That's because the District is not required to hand out final notices until May 15.
The District works with Cabrillo Unified Teachers’ Association to set the criteria that will determine seniority for layoffs.
"This is the worst ever," said Tom Cox, teacher and president of the Cabrillo Unified Teachers’ Association, speaking in regards to this year's pink slip season.
"The public really doesn't know how schools have been affected because we keep everything going for the kids," Cox said, "but I feel the end is here. If the state has money for testing and other programs yet none for the day-to-day survival of school, then we have reached the end. I truly believe that teachers, staff, administrators, parents, and the community need to say enough is enough."
Cox is also worried about teacher morale and the future of the teaching profession.
"People need to realize that we can't keep asking teachers to take all the blame for schools and cut their pay, raise their class size, reduce their benefits, and believe that we will in the future keep getting quality and inspirational teachers," he said.
The School Board will make the final determination of the number of layoffs based on the fiscal condition of the District and any related news from Sacramento in mid-May, Gaskill said.
“It is possible that the District Board could issue final notifications in May and still reinstate positions at a later point in time,” he added.
In the meantime, the school board and community are rallying to raise funds via the Cabrillo Education Foundation, and the proposed ballot initiative.
Last week, the school board voted unanimously to put on the June ballot an $81 million general obligation bond for school facilities that would cost the average property owner about $250 per year. Unlike parcel taxes like Measure E that require a two-thirds majority, general obligation bonds pass with 55 percent of votes.
“The District has both program and facility needs, and certain kinds of bond projects can effectively address both of these needs,” said Gaskill, who adds that if the District was able to reduce its electrical bill by installing solar energy equipment at school sites, those dollars could be redirected to meet program needs like teachers, books and computers.
“We are estimating that the District could complete bond projects that would save or protect nearly $1 million in general fund costs over the first five years of the measure, and much more over the full term of the bond,” said Gaskill.
The bond would help district schools with repairing and replacing roofs, maximizing energy efficiency and water conservation to save money, resurfacing playgrounds and parking areas, and providing emergency facility dollars that could be used to replace a broken furnace or water main.
The bond would also provide dollars to update science labs and equip classrooms with 21st century technology.
There are also dollars in the bond to do a few extra things “that would serve both our schools and the Coastside community well,” said Gaskill, including modernizing or replacing the high school swimming pool and constructing a small theater/multi-use facility for school and community use.
“A vote for the bond this coming June is a vote to improve and protect a significant investment that this community has made in its infrastructure, and to save and protect general fund dollars that directly impact kids and learning at a point in time when every dollar counts,” said Gaskill.
However, not all residents support the bond measure and would like to see more administrative cuts made to the budget instead.
“I am voting no on a bond of $50 per $100K," wrote Half Moon Bay resident Brian Ginna in an e-mail. "That would increase the portion of my property taxes that go to CUSD by 12 percent and increase my total bill by around 4 percent. And I voted for all parcel taxes. Twenty dollars per $100K has a better chance, but not if it is used for turf fields and solar. The District needs to be more lean — cut administrators. If that is not obvious to anyone, the discussion is pointless.”
With so much uncertainty around the outcome of the bond and on the state level with the budget, the school board is no longer in a "wait and see position," said Gaskill.
“By law, the [District] Board must maintain a minimum reserve called the Designated for Economic Uncertainty fund of three percent,” he said. “In order to begin next year with that very minimal, mandated reserve, the Board will necessarily need to make over $700,000 in cuts now unless there is some new funding from the state or federal government in the offing or additional dollars are identified in some other manner like through negotiations.”
Yet Cox thinks the District should wait until next year and see what happens at the state level and then act next school year "rather than just guessing," he said, "especially since the District has built up a big reserve with the help of the teachers and the California School Employees Association the last five years with pay cuts and health care cuts. If the budget doesn't pass and the District has used its reserve, we should look at addressing the issue then."
But because the size of the District's structural deficit is over $2 million, “the more aggressive the Board is this spring in chipping away at this deficit,” said Gaskill, “the less it will need to cut a year from now.”
To read the full text of the ballot measure and tax rate statement submitted earlier this month to Mark Church, Chief Elections Officer of San Mateo County, click on the PDF document in the media box at right.
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