Teacher layoffs ahead as district looks to close $2 million budget gap
More than 17 teaching jobs are on the line as the Menlo Park City School District struggles to close a projected $2 million shortfall for the coming school year. Close to 100 people gathered at Laurel School in Atherton on Feb. 25 to hear district officials' proposals for slashing the roughly $30 million annual budget for the 2010-11 school year.
Wide-ranging cuts would affect everything from counseling services to class sizes, art and foreign language instruction to supplies and summer school. Employee furloughs are a possibility, as is reduced teacher preparation time.
Besides 17.6 teaching positions, the equivalent of 7.4 other positions are also on the line, including an elementary school assistant principal, a technology coordinator, a custodian, a nursing assistant and classroom science aides.
Of the teaching positions, nearly six are unfilled, but the district had planned to fill them to accommodate rising enrollment. Three current teachers announced plans to resign or retire at the end of the year, so the district would have to lay off eight current teachers, said Superintendent Ken Ranella.
Fewer teachers mean larger classes. The teacher layoffs would save an estimated $330,000, and would raise class sizes as high as 29 students in grades 4-6.
Mr. Ranella said that the programs he's proposing to trim are the ones that he's spent years trying to build up.
"It's professionally disappointing that we have to go in the other direction," he said. "This is all about taking apart something that I spent eight years working on.
Of course, it wasn't all gloom and doom. A $178 parcel tax on the May 4 ballot would spare the K-8 district the worst of the cuts, and would raise just under $1.4 million annually during its seven-year duration. While district officials can't come right out and campaign for the parcel tax, they made clear that many of the cuts and at least some of the layoff notices could be rescinded if the parcel tax passes.
The district is facing $1.4 million in cuts to state funding, Mr. Ranella said. Enrollment continues to rise, and property tax revenues are flat, tracking at less than 1 percent growth, he said. Last year's cuts of $550,000 largely spared the classrooms, but with 87 percent of the budget going toward personnel costs, there's no way to avoid layoffs, he said.
Mr. Ranella's proposal to dismantle the existing summer school program and replace it with a new, decentralized model was met with a passionate rebuttal by former school board president Bruce Ives, who was in the audience. The current program has proven effective in improving the performance of struggling students, Mr. Ives said.
"The summer school we have was killed with no input or discussion. All the other cuts are presented as contingent, but summer school is permanent," he said. "It's more efficient to stick with the program we have, rather than start from scratch" with only 40 percent of the normal summer school budget, he said.
Mr. Ranella called the current summer school program "extraordinarily expensive," and proposed cutting $57,000 from its $97,000 budget for regular education students. His plan is to put each of the district's four schools in charge of coming up with a flexible program for struggling students. "I cannot support spending $97,000 on summer school given the other cuts we are looking at," he said.
Several of the people who spoke at the meeting asked about ways to help the district, either by volunteering or doing fundraising for the Menlo-Atherton Education Foundation. Others pointed out that the cuts would hit struggling students the hardest.
Mr. Ranella's proposed cuts total $1.8 million, and will be subject to a school board vote at its March 10 meeting. He's recommending using up to $500,000 in reserves to bridge the remaining deficit and hedge against further cuts in state funding.
Preliminary layoff notices to teachers and certificated employees must be given by March 15.
"If things get better, we just rescind layoffs," Mr. Ranella said.