SUBS to offer other options

The Chico Unified School District trustees still face a big decision of whether to close schools to save money. But they are not alone.

The ad-hoc group Schools Unified for Better Solutions (SUBS) met again on Feb. 15 to look at additional money-saving options for the district. The main concern of the group was to formulate realistic ideas that hadn’t been brought up by the school board or district staff in order to avoid closing school campuses. The district needs to cut about $1 million from its budget.

Jonathan Evans, co-chairman of SUBS, said it is important that the group present only viable options in order to maintain credibility with the board and reported that the group concentrated on approximately five of the best ideas this week.

“We want to get in there and contribute to the process before a bad decision is made,” he said.

The group currently has about 50 members. They have been divided into subgroups, including a Budget Committee, an Income-Generating Committee, a Demographics Committee and a Cost-Cutting Committee.

Louise Wong said she and other members of the Income-Generating Committee are trying to educate parents on the financial impact of absences. Simply increasing the district’s current average daily attendance (ADA) by 1 percent would generate about $600,000, she said.

Alan Stephenson, director of elementary education, has already given the group approval to go forth with “Perfect Attendance Day” on March 8, when it will encourage students and parents to attend class, Wong noted.

Claire Johnson, spokesperson for SUBS, said the group will also look into working with Tehama Group Communications, a student-run PR agency at Chico State University, to create an ADA campaign for next year.

The Cost-Cutting Committee is also exploring the option of eliminating 33 portables from various school sites, a move that could save the district more than $300,000. Johnson said there are currently six schools in the district operating at only partial capacity, and some portables at those campuses could be eliminated.

The Budget Committee is the largest of the four committees. Jeff Carter, a committee member, said one of his group’s main priorities is to work within the budget to save money. “We need to know the numbers with precision to find solutions within the confines of the budget,” Carter said.

Carter said one of the concerns was with over-budgeting. He said looking at past years’ budgets, he noticed that the district was budgeting more than it was spending.

In an e-mail to the group addressing the issue, Randy Meeker, assistant superintendent of business services, said a statewide computer glitch made some of the current budgets a bit confusing.

He explained that statutory benefits for pupil services, instruction and other services had been placed in a single line item for the general administration, causing the appearance of a discrepancy between what the district budgeted and what it actually spent. Meeker said that the glitch would be fixed for the upcoming budget.

Carter said his group will attend the budget information meeting on Feb. 22 at the district office conference room to work with Meeker to get a better understanding of budget issues.

Rick Anderson, the president of the CUSD Board of Trustees, said the district would be making critical decisions probably by May.

He said the board is working on paring down the list of 20 possible spending reductions, which include eliminating health aides and the elementary music program. Anderson said the district will notify certificated personnel, such as counselors, by March 15 if cuts are to be made and that it will have until May 15 to notify classified personnel, such as those holding secretarial and custodial positions.

He said the board is keeping communication open with groups like SUBS and members of the community. “We want to keep dialogue open with anyone who feels they can help be part of the solution,” Anderson said.

Anderson said everything is still on the table and that the coming months will be a challenge for the board and the community.

"Right now anything is possible."