UPDATE: Adult education removed from the chopping block

About 350 attendants Thursday night filled the gym of

A gymnasium filled with roughly 350 attendants became restless
around 8 p.m. after trustees were more than an hour late exiting
the closed session portion of their meeting Thursday night.
A gymnasium filled with roughly 350 attendants became restless around 8 p.m. after Gilroy Unified School District trustees were more than an hour late exiting the closed session portion of their meeting Thursday night.

Several groups of sign-bearing teachers began stomping their feet, clapping their hands, chanting and blowing whistles inside Christopher High School at 850 Day Rd., where GUSD board members chose to meet instead of the regular location at 7810 Arroyo Circle.

“The emotional toll of this crisis has manifested itself in many different ways,” said GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores, reminding the audience the district was obligated to respond to Santa Clara County with cemented budget proposals by Tuesday. “We wish these cuts could be avoided. The alternative, by the way, is if we don’t do it, the county will do it for us.”

As she proceeded to explain two pages of important handouts, a sea of pages rustled in the crowd as parents and faculty followed along.

One of these handouts represented $2.8 million in necessary cuts if temporary tax extensions pass in a special June election. The proposed cuts on this first page exceed that target.

The other listed a daunting $6.7 million in cuts; the sum that must be slashed if temporary tax extensions fail to pass.

Several groups took to the floor during public comment portion of the meeting, speaking on behalf of items such as keeping physical education classes, adult education, making more cuts at the top and – most notably – implementing furlough days versus across-the-board salary cuts.

Flores pointed out the possible elimination of elementary P.E. and music programs, a hot item on last week’s agenda, is no longer a staff recommendation for coping with the “worst case” budget scenario.

This announcement was met with applause.

The question of pay cuts also dominated discussion.

“If pay cuts are off the table, it’s furlough days, plus class size increases,” said trustee Tom Bundros.

This statement was met with a positive response from the audience.

“And everybody understands, too, that class size increases mean layoffs?”

A chorus of agreement resounded from the listeners.

Rosa McCann, a teacher at Eliot Elementary School, explained furlough days are “easier to give back;” meaning if the temporary tax extensions pass in June, reinstating furlough days could be a simple reversal.

She was echoed by fellow elementary teacher Babs Holiday, who explained teachers at least get time off with furlough days. Pay cuts, she said, also greatly affect morale.

What bothers trustees is that furlough days “take a significant chunk of instructional time away,” noted GUSD president Rhoda Bress, who was also not in favor of pay cuts.

Holiday and McCann agreed they would be open to a mixture of furlough days and across-the-board salary cuts.

At the end of the night, significant outcomes reached during the meeting included the decision to implement eight furlough days. Three of those days will be professional staff development days, and five of those days will be teaching days, Bress explained.

Adult Education, which up until now was at risk for having a large number of flexible funding swept from its program, was also removed from the list.

However this left a significant hole that must be filled by something else, trustee Jaime Rosso pointed out.

“We’re being asked to split the baby, in so many words,” he said. “This is the Rubik’s Cube of balancing the budget. When we take something off here, something else is going to have to be cut.”

This give-and-take balancing act was the story of the night: Trustees debating what to keep and why, then debating where the money would come from if something else was spared.

Trustee Mark Good, for example, motioned kindergarten class sizes be left alone.

Ensuing discussion on how to backfill roughly $300,000 sparked various viewpoints.

Trustee Fred Tovar wanted to use some of the economic reserve, and trustee Jaime Rosso suggested 1 percent across-the-board salary cuts.

A consensus was not reached on pay reductions; just one of the many items Bress said will require further negotiations.

According to Kirsten Perez, director of Fiscal Services for GUSD, the state of California mandates all schools must adopt a final budget by June 30.

“I wake up in the middle of the night and I wonder how public education can survive in the state of California,” said Bress. “It’s very tempting to stand on my principals, but at this point I’m talking about our survival as a district. We have to get through this crisis together, and get out of it as friends – not enemies.”

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