Somber expressions and serious talk marked a lengthy portion of the Gilroy Unified School Board meeting Thursday night, where trustees discussed “the dismantling of public education as we know it.”
Losing $471 to $841 in state funding per student in the 2012-13 school year has forced trustees to gingerly revisit crippling cost-saving measures: Increasing classroom sizes, implementing furlough days and reducing personnel are just a few of the “big ticket items.”
The funding scenario hinges on Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, which will go before voters on the November ballot in attempts to help close a $9.2 billion deficit. The initiative would temporarily increase the sales tax by one-half percent, and temporarily raise the personal income tax on Californians who make more than $250,000 annually.
If the initiative passes, GUSD will “only” lose $3 million in state funding.
If it doesn’t, GUSD will lose $7 million. This could shorten the 2012-13 school year by another 10 days (in addition to the five cut this year).
“I can’t fathom the $7 million figure,” said Board Co-President Rhoda Bress. “We will be reduced to so much less than what we are, and what our students deserve. This is a crisis in public school education.”
After cutting more than $16 million from its $85.8 million operating budget in the last four years, “we’re being forced to balance our budgets again on the backs of our children,” said GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores. “This is terribly wrong. There’s no excuse for this.”
GETTING THE MESSAGE OUT: S.O.S.
While California’s budget finagle makes headlines daily, trustees volleyed strategies for bringing the problem to Gilroyan’s doorsteps.
“Everybody needs to go through this exercise: What would you cut? What would you cut from our schools?” said Trustee Jaime Rosso. “We’re going to have to pay for the kinds of school that we want for our kids.”
In the 2010-11 school year, each student cost GUSD $8,017.
Trustees discussed shedding light on the crisis by designating a centralized “budget scenario” link on GUSD’s website. It will provide a clear synopsis of the budget and how it could affect Gilroy schools.
Trustee Fred Tovar considered partnering with the city; perhaps setting up a series of town hall forums.
“There are also many people who never read the newspaper or go on the district website,” said Trustee Pat Midtgaard. “I think there’s power in board members going out in pairs to every school and talking to clubs and school site councils … some people just don’t get it until the big yellow school bus isn’t showing up anymore. I think it doesn’t really hit you until you take your student to school and there’s 34 students sitting in the room.”
TRANSPORTATION IN JEOPARDY
There is some good news: GUSD will get back $85,000 in state funding this year.
While Brown’s midyear triggers cut transportation funding by 50 percent – resulting in a loss of $543,000 for GUSD in the current year – the cut was reversed Thursday by the legislature, which passed Senate Bill 81 to restore transportation funding.
“It’s for this year only,” said Allan Garde, director of Fiscal Services for GUSD.
Brown is still proposing to eliminate all home-to-school transportation funding in 2012-13. This would be a $1.1 million hit for GUSD.
That’s a problem, considering all districts are legally required to provide transportation for special needs students. If Brown’s budget passes, GUSD will lose $327,000 for special education transportation.
GUSD’s transportation program was already chopped in half in 2011 when six of 12 bus routes were eliminated, $225,000 was cut from its budget and five drivers, a dispatcher and an instructor were cut from the payroll.
WHAT ABOUT A PARCEL TAX?
As GUSD continues to explore the feasibility of a parcel tax, trustees listened Thursday to a Jared Boigon of TBWB Strategies – a consultant brought in at no cost to the district to help answer questions about parcel taxes.
Considering Gilroy’s demographics, “what would you expect to be a passable amount?” queried Board Co-President Tom Bundros.
“Frankly, probably the $50 to $70 range is more realistic,” the Boigon replied.
A $50 parcel tax would provide $735,000 in revenue annually for the term of the parcel tax, according to GUSD Fiscal Services. A parcel tax would need a two-thirds majority vote to pass.
With future losses in state funding expected to land between $3 million and $7 million, however, Trustee Jaime Rosso said he wouldn’t be in favor of putting effort into passing a parcel tax that gives GUSD “anything less than what we need.”
Trustees have been presented with examples of different parcel tax amounts, ranging from $50 to $300 per year, per parcel. A $300 parcel tax would provide GUSD with $4.4 million annually.
In their Jan. 12 meeting, several trustees expressed concern about placing a measure on the November ballot. The “watershed” of other tax initiatives might cause voters “go tilt and start saying ‘no’ to everything,” Board Co-President Tom Bundros said.
The earliest option is a mail-in June ballot. The deadline to get that rolling is just five weeks away, however.
“It wouldn’t leave much time for communicating with the public,” noted Boigon.
On that note, Rosso wanted to know if GUSD can get a parcel tax measure together for the November election. If the district does a feasibility study “and it doesn’t pan out,” he continued, GUSD should continue looking at other election dates down the road.
“If we’re going to move and have this as a consideration, then we’ve gotta step on the gas and get this process going,” he said.
A parcel tax would mark the first big push for local K-12 funding since voters passed Measure P, the $150 million school facilities bond Gilroyans approved in November 2008.
The school board closed the discussion by directing GUSD staff to “begin looking into some of the parcel tax ideas” that have been discussed so far.
– 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at district offices, located at 7810 ArroyoCircle.
– Joint city/school board meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 8 at GUSDdistrict offices.