Schools: cuts now, more later

By Jessica Cejnar August 17, 2012 07:12 pm

No resource officer at high school this year

Del Norte High School will be without a school resource officer for the coming school year as the district makes a series of budget cuts it says are necessary even if a statewide tax initiative passes in November.

And district officials anticipate bigger challenges ahead with a projected $2.5 million deficit for fiscal year 2013-14, saying they may have to institute employee furloughs.

If both November tax initiatives fail, the district could lose an additional $1.4 million in funding and may be forced to cut school days this coming school year, said Superintendent Don Olson. If the board does decide that furlough days are necessary, the district will have to enter into contract negotiations with its teachers and classified staff unions, he said.

“My hope is whatever we can save now we can offset that in 2013-14,” Olson said. “We haven’t had any furlough days and I hope we never have to have them. I know in 2013-14 that will definitely be an item that will be discussed with both bargaining groups.”

If Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative fails, the state will give school districts the option of slashing up to 20 days from the school year. Districts can already reduce the number of teaching days from 180 to 175 a year. K-12 schools, colleges and universities will face nearly $6 billion in cuts if the governor’s proposed tax initiative fails. 

Olson said if both tax initiatives fail, the district may be forced to cut its school year by five days — something it hasn’t had to do yet.

According to Lori Bomke, the district’s director of fiscal services, the reason for the looming $2.5 million deficit in 2013-14 is that the district has spent much of its reserves in recent years — roughly $2.8 million. For years, the district has avoided significant cuts by using forest reserve funds and funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, she said. But those programs have expired.

“We’ve known it was coming for a couple of years,” Bomke said of the district’s deficit. “We’re reaching a point where much larger changes need to be made.”

Eliminating the school resource officer position at Del Norte High School was one of several money-saving options the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees reviewed and approved last Thursday. According to Olson, getting rid of the officer position would result in a savings of $68,000.

The school resource officer is a Crescent City Police officer who provides a law enforcement presence on campus and acts as a counselor, educating students on their constitutional rights and drug abuse, police Sgt. Erik Apperson told the School Board last year. 

Other changes include eliminating bus transportation to Mary Peacock Elementary School and eliminating an elementary physical education teaching position, Olson said. The Del Norte County Office of Education would also cut half a teaching position at McCarthy Center Community School to save money, and reduce employees workers’ compensation rates.

These changes would save the district a total of $522,000, Olson said. He added that the district also received roughly $700,000 in Secure Rural Schools funding that could also be placed in reserves to offset the 2013-14 deficit.

The district also hopes to increase revenue by about $282,000 by growing student attendance to 95 percent of its potential total and decreasing the number of students leaving Del Norte High School by 33 percent.

“Student attendance is our only means of revenue,” Olson said. “If we get it to 95 we get an additional $170,000 roughly.”

Olson added that roughly 100 students left the high school last year to go into other programs. He said the district would either offer an independent study program at Del Norte High School or offer a place at Sunset High School.

The school board, administration and employee groups have all been in discussion about the potential cuts that will have to be made, Bomke said. She added that salaries and benefits make up 85 percent of the budget.

Another money-saving option the district could consider would be to increase class sizes, Olson said. So far, the approved changes will not affect class sizes, he said. 

There are currently a maximum of 25 students in kindergarten through third-grade classes and 35 students in fourth through eighth grade classes. Olson added that increasing class sizes degrades the quality of education and creates a more stressful work environment for teachers.

“These next two years will be the most challenging years that anyone’s ever seen,” he said, referring to cuts in education. “We’re hoping the tax measures pass.”

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