Local school district may face cuts

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If Gov. Jerry Brown's tax extensions are not approved, the Berkeley Unified School District could face cuts up to about $3.64 million.

Superintendent Bill Huyett laid out two scenarios - contingent on whether Brown's proposed $14 billion five-year extensions are approved by voters - for the district's 2012 fiscal year budget at a Board of Education meeting Wednesday night. Staff recommendations for the district's proposed budget reductions include increasing class sizes and furlough days, as well as various staff reductions.

The recommendations for scenario A, which would save about $700,000, include reducing the number of programs and raising fees at the Berkeley Adult School. Scenario B includes all the cuts from scenario A in addition to other cost-cutting measures to save a total of $3.64 million.

Huyett said at the meeting that scenario B is looking more likely due to Brown's halting of negotiations with Republican legislators Tuesday.

Scenario B includes $155,000 in district-wide cuts, pulling back on Berkeley High School graduation costs and reducing the amount of staff cell phone bills the district pays for safety and maintenance reasons. Scenario B would also cut just over $1 million from the adult school and would require off-site adult programs - such as Inter-City Services and those at the city's senior centers - to fund themselves.

"We have said that in our adult schools our primary core program should be second language acquisition, high school graduation credits and career technical education," Huyett said at the meeting. "Hobbyist or interest courses would take second-seed to that."

He added that the proposed adult school cuts require further review and will likely be fine-tuned throughout the spring.

Staff reductions in scenario B would amount to $645,000 in savings and eliminate one of three mechanic supervisor positions and fund some staff member salaries through Measure BB money and the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program. Measure BB was approved by voters in 2000 to cover system maintenance and the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program already covers one-third of teacher salaries.

One negotiable part of scenario B includes two options, each totaling $1.8 million in savings. In the first, staff members would have four furlough days, and class sizes for grades six to 12 would rise from 28 to 29. In the second, staff members would have one furlough day and class size would rise to 30. Fourth- and fifth-grade teachers would also lose two of their five weekly preparation periods. If the district sees deeper cuts, the two options could be combined to save $3.6 million.

"It's more accurate to call it fewer days of instruction as opposed to just furlough days, (which) doesn't present to the public that what we're talking about is school being closed," board member Karen Hemphill said at the meeting, adding that a reduction of instruction hours affects student achievement.

In addition to staff recommendations, Huyett will consider input from the Superintendent's Budget Advisory Committee - made up of community members as well as union employees - and will present final recommendations to the school board in May, after which the district will determine its final budget.

"We try to talk about cuts as in minimizing the hurt that they'll cause," board member Josh Daniels said at the meeting. "It's going to be painful and it's going to impact our ability to educate our kids the way we want to."


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