School cuts: $6 mil


Pay cuts for every employee of the Gilroy Unified School
District is one idea being considered by the school board as it
struggles to slash $6.3 million from next year’s budget.
Pay cuts for every employee of the Gilroy Unified School District is one idea being considered by the school board as it struggles to slash $6.3 million from next year’s budget.

“I don’t think we can have any sacred cows,” trustee Mark Good said. “We need to consider everything … what is it going to take in terms of an across-the-board salary cut so that nobody loses their job. If people would rather see their less-senior peers lose their jobs and the resulting quality of education decline, then that’s up to them.”

Dozens of teacher layoffs, significantly larger class sizes or furloughs are other options under discussion.

Trustee Tom Bundros even suggested advertising on school buses during a preliminary budget study session Thursday and trustee Javier Aguirre proposed closing one middle school and combining two into one. These suggestions were added to a boiling cauldron of unsavory possibilities.

GUSD will receive about $247 less funding per student from the state – which adds up to $2.7 million – and have to come up with another $3 million to restore its mandated 3 percent reserve fund and operating budget, said Hardy Childers, interim assistant superintendent of administrative services. Another $600,000 must be cut because the district expects to fall one percentage point short of meeting its projected student attendance level of 96 percent.

“As we move forward with this process, that’s going to be a target that’s difficult to achieve and some very difficult decisions are going to have to be made,” Childers said.

California is reeling from a $18.9 billion deficit over the next 18 months and will pass about $5 billion of that shortfall onto public schools. GUSD will have to cut about 7.2 percent of its $88 million general fund budget to balance its books. Because employee salaries and benefits make up 81 percent of the general fund, layoffs may be unavoidable this year, Superintendent Deborah Flores said. The deadline to notify teachers who might be laid off is March 15.

Flores said that even class size reduction, one of the programs she has fought to preserve through past budget cuts, is on the chopping block.

“The number is so large – $6 million to cut out of next year’s budget – that we are forced to put a program that we believe makes a huge difference for kids on this list,” Flores said.

Even teachers who have spoken out adamantly in the past against eliminating small classes resigned themselves to the grim realization that the program the district has fought so hard to save through previous budget cycles might fall victim to this year’s cuts.

“I think we’re reasonable enough to know that we’re not going to be able to keep our 20-to-1” ratio of students to teachers, said Stephanie Chisolm, a second grade teacher at Luigi Aprea Elementary School.

If GUSD increases class sizes from 20 to 26 in kindergarten through third grade, 37 elementary school teachers could lose their jobs. School districts receive a monetary incentive from the state to keep class sizes low but that bonus doesn’t fully fund the program. Scrapping class size reduction would save the district anywhere from $435,000 to $1.7 million depending on how big the district makes those classes. An additional 16 teachers will be laid off if trustees increase class sizes by two students per class in fourth through 12th grades.

Beyond eliminating small class sizes, trustees and the teachers union suggested many additional areas to study.

A three-day furlough for teachers would save the district $700,000 but “doesn’t achieve anything,” Good said. “We need every single employee we have,” Good said.

Other suggestions included selling or leasing property, reducing the amount of compensation board members receive – currently $240 per month – and taking another look at expensive student assessments, sports funding and employee mileage stipends. Retiring 15 teachers early could save the district $160,000.

But even if trustees were to take all the cost-cutting measures district staff presented, they would still miss the target by about $800,000, Childers said.

Gilroy Teachers Association President Michelle Nelson said she couldn’t guarantee that teachers would agree to some of trustees’ and district staff’s suggestions, especially taking an across-the-board pay cut.

“I can ask,” Nelson said. “I just think it’s very difficult to ask teachers to do that when we’re already near the bottom and the district always has found money for programs and people that don’t necessarily help teaching.”

Before the study session, Nelson sent an e-mail to all certificated staff comparing the compensation for the district’s teachers, superintendent and school board with the rest of the county. While Flores’ annual base salary lingers slightly below the average salary of the county’s 33 district superintendents, teacher compensation comes in almost dead last, Nelson pointed out. Still, Gilroy teachers’ salaries are similar to salaries in Morgan Hill, San Jose and Campbell – cities with similar costs of living as Gilroy.

“There’s been a suggestion that we should cut all administrators’ pay,” Flores said. “We did that two years ago – every administrator in this district took a 1.5 percent pay cut. There are a lot of people in this district office who are now doing two people’s work all the time and it’s taking a big toll, but we know we have to do our part and we’ve done it, and we’re going to continue to do it.”

The board’s next study session will be Feb. 4.

Possible cuts/revenue sources under consideration

– Increasing K-3rd grade classes from 20 to 26, eliminating 37 jobs: $669,600

– Increasing 4-12th grade classes by two students per class, eliminating 16 jobs: $960,300

– Three-day teacher furloughs: $700,000

– Early retirement for 15 teachers: $160,000

– Across the board pay cuts

– Leasing or selling property

– Advertising on buses

– Closing a middle school

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