CUSD leaders consider cut suggestions, welcomes treasurer’s tax proposal
Cut sports. Close schools. End class-size reduction. But whatever you do, don’t cut my program. That’s the gist of many of the hundreds of suggestions for budget cuts received by the Chico Unified School District.
If recently re-elected state Treasurer Phil Angelides has his way, districts won’t have to cut nearly as much as they fear. Angelides on Feb. 25 made Chico one of his stops on a statewide tour in which he blames Republicans in the Legislature for holding up the budget by refusing to compromise, particularly on the issue of tax hikes.
“If we don’t invest in your education, we’re going to be making a grave mistake for the economy,” Angelides, a Democrat, told Emma Wilson Elementary School students. When the children asked what they could do to help keep small class sizes and other amenities, Angelides suggested they write such Republicans as Assemblyman Rick Keene and Sen. Sam Aanestad, who have refused to consider raising taxes. “It’s very hard not to read a letter from a sixth-grader,” he said.
“We need to build a movement that will say nothing more should be cut,” Angelides said, especially when test scores are up and class sizes are down.
CUSD Superintendent Scott Brown, in introducing Angelides, called him the man they’ve been waiting for “to come forward and stick up for schools.”
The CUSD is faced with cutting $3.6 million of its $99 million budget, and trustees have gone so far as to ask teachers to consider giving up some of their pay or benefits to lessen the impact on programs and staff.
Posted on the CUSD Web site, as part of a recent attempt by district leadership to communicate more openly, are details of school funding rules, the CUSD’s budget, and the list of 730 suggestions offered by employees of the CUSD and other community members. The suggestions are unedited and some appear harsh—such as ending the free-lunch program for children in low-income families or making children provide their own books and school supplies. Other suggestions are more catty than class-unconscious: “Eliminate clerical people doing football pools on company time.” Some name names, as in whom to “shake loose” from the staff. A few are illegal, such as eliminating standardized testing or spending reserve funds.
But many of the suggestions are well thought out and intriguing.
To save money, some suggested raising employees’ health insurance copayments, while others proposed eliminating trustees’ access to district-supported health care. More than a dozen comments supported ending the 20-to-1 ratio in kindergarten through third grade. Twenty people wanted layoffs to take place at the District Office. Thirty-three said to close Nord, Forest Ranch and Cohasset elementaries—the three “small schools.”
Other suggestions included: cutting off employee cell phones and travel budgets, eliminating consultants (administrative retirees are often hired back on a contract basis), making teachers remove personal electrical appliances from their rooms to save energy, letting teachers control classroom temperature, charging the Chico Area Recreation District for facilities’ use, using two staples instead of three, instituting a hiring freeze, firing custodians and hiring a janitorial service to avoid paying benefits, eliminating vice principals, selling Chico High School to Chico State University, bringing back retirement incentives, eliminating in-service days, canceling the Strategic Plan, waiting longer to buy new books, making kids ride city buses, salary cuts to avoid layoffs, shortening the school year and selling ad space on buses or at school sites.
There might have been a misstep at the Feb. 19 Board of Trustees meeting, however well-intentioned, when Trustee Steve O’Bryan urged “professional staff” to collaborate on ways to find more money, including taking “a good, hard look” at their pay and benefits packages. “Get together with your union hierarchies and discuss your priorities,” he told employees, and decide what could be given up “to possibly spare a program or spare one of your co-workers’ jobs.”
After the meeting, Chico Unified Teachers Association President George Young took issue with O’Bryan’s comments. “I think it was a pretty uninformed thing to say. We didn’t cause the budget problems in the state,” he said. “We gave up pay raises to get benefits, and we’ve [since] given up the good benefits we had.”
Besides that, Young acknowledged, what O’Bryan did could be classified as bargaining directly with teachers and thus open to a union grievance—something the CUTA is considering this week.
Also at the meeting, school counselors showed up to demonstrate their importance and children displayed signs urging the district to keep elementary-school music.
“Look everywhere you can before you make cuts that so affect our children in such a direct way,” said parent Connie Adams, whose 10-year-old daughter has launched her own effort to save music.
The counselors, all but three of whom don’t have the credentials to bounce back to classroom teaching and thus could lose their jobs altogether, told the board that seeing their positions on the list makes them feel devalued. His voice breaking, Jorge Salas, who helped talk a girl into giving up a gun at Chico Junior High School earlier this semester, said, “What I do makes a difference.” Pleasant Valley High School Principal Mike Rupp also weighed in: “Schools will be a different place without counselors, and not a very good place. … The message inherent in that list is that counselors are not needed or affordable. Somebody needs to ask the principal what he’d like to cut.”
The board, with trustees saying they never would have done it if they thought all the layoffs would really go through, voted to send notices to certificated employees warning them they might be let go to free up the money attached to the equivalent of 63.4 full-time positions.