Bills
music in the park san jose

When Gilroy Unified School District board members faced a
revised list of unattractive penny-pinching proposals Thursday
evening, trustee Jaime Rosso candidly pointed out

we must take our medicine now and make some hard choices.

When Gilroy Unified School District board members faced a revised list of unattractive penny-pinching proposals Thursday evening, trustee Jaime Rosso candidly pointed out “we must take our medicine now and make some hard choices.”

Downsizing at the district office, eliminating vice principals and removing two full-time positions at Mount Madonna School were publicly discussed for the first time last week when Gilroy Unified School District trustees explored drastic routes for surviving education’s imminent fiscal crisis.

With a possible $7.3 million absence in funds looming on the horizon, this was the third out of four public study sessions taking place prior to the statutory March 15 deadline for announcing layoffs.

The meeting ended with a budget list totaling a little more than $2 million in tentative cuts – about a million shy of the $3.3 million in spending cuts GUSD must make for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

That total is contingent on a June 2011 special election where voters may or may not approve a five-year extension of temporary tax measures – which would maintain flat funding from the state guaranteed by voter-approved Proposition 98. If not passed, GUSD would have to slash $7.3 million.

“These are not easy times in public school education,” said GUSD board president Rhoda Bress.

As roughly 40 people filled the room to hear the board address money saving suggestions and explain why some items may be cut over another, trustees went down the list and earmarked what they did and did not agree on.

The board also requested cost savings information for closing an elementary or middle school, but GUSD superintendent Deborah Flores said school closure was not included in the district’s recommendations and is not currently under consideration.

“However,” she wrote in an e-mail Friday, “if we are not able to reach an agreement with our unions regarding the second page of reductions … class size increases, furlough days and across-the-board cuts, then it may be necessary to reconsider other options.”

When trustees reviewed the suggestion of reducing secondary school administrative positions with a possible savings of $240,000, Flores indicated schools were already functioning with minimal support staff.

“It would have to be the assistant principal,” she said, mentioning one removal at the middle school level and one at the high school level. “It’s all that’s left.”

The details of reorganization and downsizing at the district office, however, a move that could generate $500,000 in savings, must be discussed in a closed session meeting according Flores.

Salvatore Tomasello, Ascencion Solorsano Middle School principal, said there had been no discussions on cutting administrative positions at any principal meeting.

He said Thursday’s school board meeting was “the first time all of us had heard that.”

Tomasello explained if any school loses an assistant principal, it pulls the principal away from “something else we’re working on” in order to address issues such as attendance and discipline.

After learning Mount Madonna could lose two full time staff members by increasing class sizes from ratios of 20-to-1 to 25-to-1, Principal Jennifer Del Bono said over the phone Monday “there is a breaking point.”

Mount Madonna, a continuation high school serving at-risk students who would otherwise struggle in a traditional classroom, is the only alternative school choice since the Community Day School was closed last year.

“We don’t have the extra resources that support kids and help them thrive in a comprehensive high school,” said Del Bono, mentioning technology, sports, a gym, pool or clubs. “All we have and rely on is a dedicated and talented teaching staff that is able to make connections and build relationships with at-risk students.”

She explained the funding Mount Madonna currently receives is the bare minimum for what is needed to lower the achievement gap, and anything less will not deliver the same results.

Something trustees did not agree on was reducing the district’s economic reserve below the required 3 percent to a 1.5 percent reserve for economic uncertainties, a strategy trustee Mark Good called a “temporary Band-Aid.”

“We need to make broader cuts that are ongoing,” he said.

Flores replied whatever cuts the district makes will be agonizing, but necessary.

Trustee Jaime Rosso labeled the move – something that could hurt the district’s credit rating – a short-term solution he could not support.

Bress argued the reserve is for emergencies.

“If this isn’t a rainy day, I don’t know what else it could be,” she said.

At the end of the meeting, items removed from the list of tentative cuts included reducing the economic reserve and the proposal of eliminating additional staffing at each middle school by reducing the READ 180 intervention programs.

Sweeping $90,000 in flexible funds from adult education was agreed upon, but not to the point where the program will be eradicated all-together.

“Once you eliminate a program in this district, it never comes back,” cautioned Bress. “So we have to hold onto it, even if by the skin of our teeth.”

Flores also took time to acknowledge the “pages and pages of suggestions” GUSD had received via their online suggestion forum, as well as explain the feasibility of recurring ideas pertaining to subjects such as management allowances, Gilroy Prep School and attendance fees.

She said the district was open to eliminating the $15,000 expense for cell phone allowances, and agreed GUSD should not engage in new curriculum adoptions for the next couple of years.

As for charging parents absence fees, Flores explained this had been repeatedly suggested but is against the law.

She confirmed GPS – set to open this fall – will be a major hit on GUSD’s general fund, but said the board could not legally deny the founder’s petition for financial reasons since they met all the requirements of the law.

“Therefore,” she said, “(GPS) will open in August – assuming they will decide to move forward, given the crisis is affecting them as deeply as it’s affecting us.”

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