CUSD cuts: ‘You asked for it’

“We told you so.”

That was the message Chico teachers heard from the school board dais, as trustees moved to approve extensive layoffs that will bring cuts to treasured programs like libraries and the opportunity for high-school students to take college courses.

“None of us is really surprised at this,” said Trustee Scott Schofield, referencing the teachers’ raise the board OK’d last year to avert a strike. “This is the price for labor peace, isn’t it?”

Soon, Schofield was in a bickering match with Dan Sours, president of the Chico Unified Teachers Association.

“It’s nice to have somebody to blame,” Sours said in a prepared statement, asking why the board approved the cuts if it didn’t believe it was the right thing to do.

Schofield shot back that it was only to avoid the community backlash that would come if the district took the teachers to court. He challenged teachers to give back some of their raise if they truly care about retaining people and programs.

The district believes it has to make $1.8 million in cuts over the next two years: $700,000 or so because the governor took back already-budgeted funds and $1 million to cover the cost of teacher raises.

“[You have] more staff than you can afford,” said Deputy Superintendent Jim Sands in recommending that the district lay off the equivalent of about 27 full-time teachers, many more if you count bodies. Four administrative positions will also go.

The cuts would increase class sizes at the high schools by eliminating classes. Nine to 16 students in a course, Sands told the board, “is a luxury that I don’t think we can afford at this point.”

Students and other community members, matching the positions laid off to those doing the work, came to plea for programs.

Most, near tears, praised Butte College Connection. “It’s an awesome program. You can get so many credits, said Niki Taylor, an 11th-grader at Pleasant Valley High School, before the meeting. “It’s like a free year of college.”

Several spoke in favor of libraries, saying that if the district ignores its promised intent to boost library services, it could lose $377,000 a year in state materials grants.

Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to approve the layoffs and associated cuts, but some mentioned the hope that the Butte College Connection program could be restructured in a way that would allow it to stay.

Steven Valentino, serving in his last meeting as student representative to the board, cast his advisory vote as "no." He said larger classes would hamper student learning. "You could do an across-the-board reduction instead of going after the teachers’ union for the contract they negotiated," he said.