Maybe a bake sale?

There’s thinking outside the box, and then there’s crawling into a cardboard box for a couple of years and hoping the evil budget will just go away. The Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees would probably rather do the latter, but it knows it can’t.

So school board members, at their Nov. 19 meeting, engaged in an impromptu brain-storming session about how the district could possibly raise enough money to maintain some semblance of educational integrity.

Trustees batted about atypical fund-raising campaigns, fees—even the idea of parcel taxes.

“The public, of which we’re a part, needs to get involved in the solutions,” said Trustee Scott Huber, “so we don’t have to dig as deep in the next couple of years as we did last year.”

Trustee Anthony Watts said, “We have the power in this room to fix this problem locally… rather than simply accepting the fate that’s handed down to us from the state.”

The CUSD had already planned on nearly $3 million in cuts to its $96 million budget over the next couple of years. At the Nov. 19 meeting, layoffs were seen as a foregone conclusion.

A lot of that may change for the worse with new Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in office, bringing educational experience including an after-school bond program that never got funded and his role in Kindergarten Cop. Accordingly, Assistant Superintendent Randy Meeker (the budget-inator) was directed to hold off on most of his planned report on the district’s three-year budget projection.

“We don’t believe the state crisis is a one-year problem,” Meeker conceded. “I don’t know if there is an easy way for Chico Unified to get around these next two years.”

Watts, getting more jaded by the minute, wondered why the CUSD can’t work like a regular business and deny raises to employees. (Answer: It’s in the contract, Buddy.) The three board members elected last November quickly outgrew the newcomers’ syndrome, a symptom of which is the idea that fixing the CUSD’s budget is just a matter of controlling spending.

Schwarzenegger has indicated that he will cut services and try to float a $15 billion bond to cover the deficit for a short time. His Nov. 17 repeal of the increased vehicle license fee will mean a loss of $4.2 billion from local governments, and that includes schools.

Trustee Steve O’Bryan mentioned that, when he was elected three years ago, then-Gov. Gray Davis was releasing deficit-reduction money and O’Bryan thought he was coming on board just in time to be the “hero.”

"It’s interesting to see how upside down things can go in just a couple of years," he said.