Who’s going to pay?

The committee charged with recommending how to cut $1 million from the Chico Unified School District’s budget by closing campuses has come up with four possible scenarios, all of them bad.

Three of the four would require closing three small elementary schools, Nord, Forest Ranch and Cohasset, in outlying areas. This would be devastating to these communities, where the school is the center of civic life in a way that never occurs with town schools. And it would mean that hundreds of children would have to spend an additional hour or two each day riding the bus to school.

And the fourth scenario, a complicated mish-mash of closures, program transfers and school boundary adjustments, would disrupt more than 1,000 students.

The committee did a tough job commendably, and now the final decision is up to the district’s trustees. Fortunately, they have options other than closing schools. Unfortunately, many of those options involve cutting programs and jobs.

According to the district’s own studies, for example, they could save $1 million by eliminating all school counselors. Eliminating air conditioning would save $444,000 annually. They could save $381,000 by eliminating all health aides. Charging CARD more for using its facilities for after-school programs would bring in $260,000 (to be passed onto the parents of kids in the program). And so on down the line, all the way to reducing district office custodial staff, saving $21,000.

The district could also save about $450,000 annually by eliminating high-school athletics. They’re wonderful activities, but are they essential to education? No.

Or the district’s employees could agree to take a 1 percent salary reduction. That would save $675,000 a year, enough to keep some schools open. Teachers comprise the largest employee category. The average Chico teacher makes more than $55,000 a year and has a Cadillac health, dental, vision and life insurance benefits package worth $11,000, all for working 36 weeks a year. That’s not too shabby.

If the administrators agreed to take a 1 percent temporary cut, would the teachers go along? Would parents accept the demise of high-school athletics? Can we get along without counselors? These are the difficult questions the trustees will need to ask and answer before they can justify shutting schools.