More than 17 teaching jobs are on the line as the Menlo Park City School District struggles to close a $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.
Wide-ranging cuts would affect everything from counseling services to class sizes, art and foreign language instruction to supplies and summer school. Besides 17.6 teaching positions, 7.4 other positions are also on the line, including an assistant principal, a technology coordinator, a custodian, a nursing assistant and classroom science aides.
Superintendent Ken Ranella said that the programs he's proposing to trim are the ones that he has 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, there's a ray of hope. 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campaign for the parcel tax, they made clear that many of the cuts, and at least some of the layoff notices, could be rescinded if the parcel tax passes.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, 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. The current program has proven effective in improving the performance of struggling students, he 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," said Mr. Ives. "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. "I cannot support spending $97,000 on summer school given the other cuts we are looking at," he said.
Mr. Ranella's proposed cuts total $1.8 million, and will be subject to a school board vote at the board's 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.