Break out the hankies: CUSD cuts are real

This year, Chico school leaders aren’t crying wolf.

Facing a budget deficit of $3.6 million this year and next, the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees was set Feb. 19 to approve the sending of layoff notices totaling the equivalent of 63.4 full-time workers. The positions that could go range from counselors and librarians to nurses and psychologists. A total of 12 elementary teaching positions and 11.4 junior-high and high-school teachers related to class-size reduction are also on the block.

In past years, the CUSD has sent out the “reduction in force” notices only to leave the positions filled after the budget turned out to be better than expected or retirements allowed the district to cut positions through attrition. That’s not expected to be the case this year.

“This is the worst that I’ve seen,” said CUSD Deputy Superintendent Jim Sands, who has been in education for more than 30 years. If all 63.4 positions are ultimately cut, Sands said the district will save $2.4 million.

New CUSD Trustee Scott Huber, interviewed before the Feb. 19 meeting, said he’s already decided what his approach will be, even if it doesn’t win friends and influence people: “putting the test of each potential cut to how I think it affects the students.”

He has spent hours considering the possibilities, as outlined behind the scenes by staff and in teachers’ and community members’ suggestions, and, “I don’t relish any of it.”

A lot of what will happen to the CUSD’s $99 million budget is up in the air as the state Legislature—which could go easier on schools—contemplates Gov. Gray Davis’ proposal.

George Young, the president of the Chico Unified Teachers Association, agreed that this year it really is as bad as it seems. “For years we told [CUSD leaders] they had the money when they said they didn’t,” he said. “We’re not telling them that this year.”

Young pointed out that, since many of the employees in the positions slated for possible elimination have seniority, they would likely return to the classroom, bumping someone with lesser status.

Some of the proposed reductions are all-or-nothing deals. For example, Young explained, since the union contract requires that counselors be staffed at no less than a 1:400 ratio, the district has to lay off all or none of them.

"I feel for the school board having to make these decisions," he said.