Although the governing board of the Menlo Park City School District has decided to put a parcel tax measure on the March 7 ballot, the board's work on the district's budget is far from over.
At a Dec. 13 meeting, the school board looked at how to cut spending to eliminate a budget deficit the district has forecast will reach $5.3 million by the 2020-21 budget year. Even if the proposed $360 annual tax on each parcel in the district gets the two-thirds approval it needs in March. the budget won't balance without spending reductions.
The board also needs to have a back-up plan in case the tax fails, because the vote comes just before a March 15 deadline for layoff notices, and a few months before the 2017-18 budget needs approval.
The board looked at two proposals - one for cuts needed to balance the budget whether or not the parcel tax passes, and a second for cuts that will be needed if the parcel tax is not approved by two-thirds of the voters.
A vote on what cuts to implement won't come until January at the earliest.
The proposal for cuts that will be made even with a parcel tax includes reducing current or projected spending in the 2017-18 school year by about $740,000. Cuts are made by eliminating 3.5 full-time-equivalent central office positions, not hiring two new teachers who are expected to be needed for enrollment growth and slightly reducing electives at Hillview Middle School to eliminate the need for a .67 teaching position, as well as several other changes.
Two lower-level employees would be hired to partially replace the jobs eliminated in the central office.
In the second year, class sizes would go up across the district, a custodian's job would be eliminated and $25,000 less would be spent on professional development. Net reduced spending over the two years would be $1.3 million.
Without the new parcel tax, in addition to the other cuts, in 2017-18 average class sizes would go up across the district and some electives would be dropped so seven full-time teachers' jobs could be eliminated. In addition, salary increases would be limited and a number of other cuts would be made to school site budgets, professional development, the technology budget and Hillview's mini-courses, for a projected additional savings of $1.4 million a year.
In the second year, with no new parcel tax, the work year for teachers would be cut by two in-service days a year and for school-level administrators by five days. Science aide, credentialed librarian and instructional aide positions would be eliminated for a projected additional $1.5 million in reductions.
A third year of cuts would be needed without a parcel tax, with art teachers and two special-assignment teacher positions eliminated. Some of the teachers would be replaced with noncredentialed aides in art and the library and one credentialed library/media specialist would be hired. Under this scenario, net spending cuts over the three years would be $5.5 million.
School board member David Ackerman said he'd like to see all pay raises eliminated if the parcel tax does not pass. "My placeholder would be zero salary increases," he said.
Board member Terry Thygesen said she feared that the proposed cuts wouldn't really be enough to balance the budget. "Are these really realistic?" she asked.
"Making cuts that don't have a significant negative effect on the quality of the programs that we're offering to students is going to be very, very difficult to do," Ms. Thygesen said.
Ms. Thygesen suggested class sizes would need to be increased by more than had been recommended to achieve the needed savings.
Assistant Superintendent Erik Burmeister agreed that "we are cutting it very close." He had been attempting to craft a scenario where staff cuts could be made without laying off any permanent teachers, but relied on planned retirements and letting temporary teachers go, he said.
Mr. Burmeister said he will return in January with a more refined version of reductions, but warned the school board that any cuts that require layoffs, even of temporary teachers, must be given final approval by February.
Many of the reductions would require negotiations with the unions that represent district teachers and other employees, Mr. Burmeister said.
A video of the meeting can be seen online.