Supe: Trustees must sacrifice ideals

Preparing for its despised task of cutting $1.8 million from the 2004-05 budget, the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees on Feb. 4 began weighing its options.

At the meeting, trustees voted to spend $35,000 on a contracted study to determine how the district might be restructured—schools closed and students shifted as early as 2005-06.

“We’ve lost the equivalent of an elementary school and a half in the last five years in terms of enrollment,” Superintendent Scott Brown said. Almost anything is up for discussion, including doing something different with the District Office site on East Seventh Street or moving sixth graders to create middle schools—ironic since Marsh Junior High was recently built to ease crowding.

So far, the list of potential cuts is long and sweeping. Brown acknowledged that some of them might be only theoretical, illustrating where the money goes and the “difficult choices” the CUSD is facing. For example, eliminating air-conditioning to save $444,000 is “probably unrealistic.” There was a “barrage” of complaints last year when the district increased the set-point at which the A/C kicked on by 2 degrees, he said.

In a switch from cuts discussions of earlier years, there have not been many people commenting on this latest list. Susan Christensen again appeared to point out that bringing the junior highs to a five-period day, saving $695,000 by laying off 17 to 20 teachers, would essentially get rid of electives like foreign languages and the arts, which evidence shows increases students’ test scores.

Cory Wheeler, a seventh grader at Bidwell Junior High School, told the board that some children only come to school because they enjoy the electives. “To cut electives is like cutting fun out of the day,” he said.

While Brown has suggested distributing the cuts among departments and employee groups in a “fair share” arrangement, Trustee Scott Huber said that might not be, well, fair.

“I think fair share is unfair because when it takes quality teachers out of the formula and when it takes away music and art,” he said, children suffer. Personally, Huber said, he would start at the bottom of the proposed list of cuts and eliminate the low-dollar items first.

Brown said the board may not have a choice. If it fails to balance the budget, the state could come in and take over the district. “[I can’t say], ‘Not to worry; it’s gonna be OK,” Brown said. “I hate these. These are all awful. [But] you can’t exempt certificated staff from this solution because there isn’t enough money in the other groups.”

“Someday,” Brown pronounced, “you will have to sacrifice that ideal.”

In early March, trustees must consider sending preliminary layoff notices in case in comes to that. The CUSD’s budget is due June 30, but the state’s comes in whenever legislators can agree on one.