By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
With hundreds of suggestions looming on how to survive $2.4 million in budget cuts to Del Norte public schools, teachers and students are lobbying to keep cuts away from the classroom a hope administrators say is impossible.
It is likely classes will have more students, someone's favorite teacher will be laid off and a large group of students will lose their favorite art or choir class.
And those most affected by the coming cuts say they feel the most removed from the decision-making process.
"It's just frustrating. I just kind of ride this boat and wait until they tell me a storm is coming," said Robert Berryman, an art and carpentry teacher at Del Norte High School.
Cuts to the state's public school system by Gov. Gray Davis could go deeper next year to the tune of another $2 million if the Davis' tax increase proposals don't come through.
Arts and sports programs now proposed for conversion to after-school programs may get cut all together.
Some students, who consider their arts classes a lifeline, implored elected school boardmembers last week to find other ways to shave expenses.
"Everyday, I get up, because first period, I have women's choir. A lot of us look forward to coming to school because we have that class.
"It makes me feel like I can do more because I have a special skill. It helps me through my schoolwork when I know everyday I can go to women's choir," said one female freshman attending the high school.
Parents and students also offered to help the district where they could.
High school junior Kristin Gwen suggested students could buy their own textbooks. Parent Dave Gator said he and other parents could donate their vacation days to serve the school district in whatever capacity was needed. And teacher Cali Martin reminded the board to tap the ever-generous nature of the Del Norte Community for donations.
"I know this community. They give when it's important," Martin said.
Officials of the Yurok Tribe also implored the board to keep Margaret Keating School in Klamath open.
A previous suggestion by the district's budget staff was to consider closing Margaret Keating School and letting the Yurok tribal government absorb the school's 114 kindergarten through eighth-grade teachers.
Carol Lewis, of the Yurok Tribal Office, told the board that closing Margaret Keating would be a great disservice to the Klamath community.
"It's one of the few schools in the district with drastic increases in enrollment. A 20-percent increase in the last year," Lewis said.
She added that with the relocation of the Yurok Tribal Office from Eureka to Klamath, many more families are moving to Klamath and enrolling their children in the school.
Union leaders of the district's teachers and classified staff also implored school boardmembers to include them in the decision-making process.
"We were told that we're all in this together. We should not only be included to see what you decide, but what impact our input has on the decision-making process," said Mike Wylie, union president for the district's non-teaching, non-administration staff.
Both Wylie and teacher union President Ryan Bouchard asked boardmembers to roll back the raises given to administrators since 1997 some of which amount to 44 to 47 percent salary increases.
Teacher Martha McClure, who is also a Del Norte County supervisor, said she hopes the board cuts travel expenses and $150-per-month car allotments to administrators before laying off teachers.
In answer, District Superintendent Frank Lynch said administrators got such raises because their salaries were "grossly underpaid" compared to similar counties.
"I understand what their (teachers') concerns are, but when you look at the administrators' raises, you have to look at where they came from," Lynch said.
Strategizing nearly every day to navigate the budget crisis, Lynch said the district is trying to cut back to the staffing it had in 1997.
In phase one of the budget cuts, where the cuts are relatively certain, approximately 18 teachers and five administrators will be laid off.
Those five administrators, however, may have the option of taking teaching positions. If they exercise that choice, Lynch said, that will push another five teachers out of a job.
If the governor's tax increase proposals don't pass this summer and another $2 million does have to be shaved here, the district moves to its phase-two plan. The district has identified a wide range of choices in this plan, from increasing class sizes to closing schools. None of these suggestions are recommended at this time; but, rather, they are options to consider. It is in phase two where the cuts become Draconian, slicing deeply into programs like art, music and sports.
Lynch said the deeper cuts could take another 30 teachers and nearly all of the district's administration, minus a high-school principal and a budget person.
By May 15, a maximum of 71 teachers will receive their final lay-off notices, as will about 20 administrators.
Because the May 15 deadline for notification of layoff comes before the resolution of the state's budget, Lynch said it's likely that many of those laid off will be rehired.
Lynch said the bumpy budget ride should last about two years, according to recent economic forecasts.
"We'll make it through this," he said.