State Slashes $4.8m From AUHSD Budget

Katrina Kovalik and Elizabeth Lenczowski

Election to begin mid-April for $112 parcel tax in hopes of recovering funds

The Governor’s Proposed Budget released on Jan. 8 for the 2010-2011 school year cuts $4.8 million from the Acalanes Union High School District, leading to the elimination of teaching positions and classes.

“This is a tragedy for students, schools and the community,” said AUHSD Governing Board President Vanessa Crews.

If these budget cuts proceed as planned, consequences may include the loss of over 58 teaching positions, increases in class sizes, and the elimination or reduction of English electives, seventh period electives, science classes, AP courses and visual and performing arts classes.

“What makes it so challenging with these cuts is that it’s not just electives being cut, it’s also academic classes,” said Miramonte Principal Adam Clark.

Psychology teacher Paul Fitzgerald has five periods of the popular senior class that could be eliminated or reduced next year.

“I’m afraid of that,” said Fitzgerald. “I enjoy teaching it and I think it’s a very valuable class.”

Core programs and academic classes that have helped Miramonte’s standing in the nation’s top 100 schools are also facing the budget axe.

“Lack of state funding could transform the foundational mission of the AUHSD,” said Superintendent John Stockton in an update on district website on Jan. 15.

The worries and fears of students, parents, teachers and administrators go well beyond national ranking. Basic high school education is being threatened.

“Every student will feel the impact of our dire budget situation,” said Crews. “We are no longer in a position to pick and choose favored programs- we are just trying to get students to classes they need for graduation.”

Neither the district nor the Parent’s Club can raise enough funds for Miramonte to save certain classes or programs. Not even the $800,000 raised annually by the Parent’s Club can make up for the district reductions.

The AUHSD Board was set to vote on the cuts to Particular Kind of Services (PKS) on Wednesday, Feb. 3; the outcome is not available as of press time.  According to Clark, the larger the department, the more cuts will be made to it. For example, because Miramonte’s English department is the school’s largest, award winning English electives such as journalism and public speaking are on the chopping block. Approximately 5.6 English teachers may be let go in the district, 1.6 Public Speaking sections, and 1.4 sections of Journalism. Each section cut corresponds to five periods, the amount taught by a full-time teacher.

All departments are fair game and none of them are safe according to district administrators.  An additional 2.6 science teachers and two language teachers will be dismissed from the district for next year, permitting students to take only one of each of such classes per year.

Teachers and other district employees will know of their dismissal for 2010-2011 through “pink slips” distributed on March 15.  Lay-offs are usually based on seniority, with a few exceptions regarding specific teaching experience. Another blow will be the loss of counselors and librarians for the whole district. The loss of 13 counselors in the district will leave two counselors per school.

“This will have a huge impact on all students, especially seniors who rely on counselors for college recommendations,” said Crews. “School libraries will be operated by clerks since there will only be one librarian for the district.”

Class size increases are an inevitable consequence of the imminent cuts.  The maximum student contacts per teacher in the AUHSD ranges from 12 students for Special Education to 300 students for Choral classes.  Most teachers have student contact ranges from 140 to 150. Currently, the average class size in the AUHSD is 25.8 students.

The budget reductions also force the district to close Del Oro, the alternative education program founded by the AUHSD in 1967 that has since been recognized as a “2009 California Model Continuation High School.”

“The closure of Del Oro will be especially hard on those students who struggle at the comprehensive schools,” said Crews.

According to Schwarzenegger on Jan. 6, “Because our future economic well-being is so dependent upon education, I will protect education funding in this budget.”

However, despite this declaration, the truth is that these are the most severe cuts to California education since the start of the nationwide economic downturn. The AUHSD can’t expect any relief from the state government and once again the burden will fall to the community to financially back the schools.

The first step the district has taken to counteract the cuts was to conduct a survey to determine the willingness of the voters to impose another short-term parcel tax on property owners.  The survey results released Feb. 1 have determined that 67.2% of the community would be willing to pay a tax of $112. 23.6% of the randomly selected residents were opposed to the tax and 8.9% were undecided. The distict voted to proceed with the parcel tax at Board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 2. The special election will take place in mid-April through the mail. If the tax passes with a required 67% majority, an annual collection will begin on July 1, 2010 and continue for five years.  The district will encourage active campaigns for the tax from each high school.

“If the election turns out favorable, we will be able to limit cuts,” said Clark.  “But if we lose, all the proposed cuts will go into effect.”

The failed passage of the parcel tax would affect not only the future of Miramonte students and their parents, but also anyone owning property in the Lamorinda area. Good schools raise the value of homes in the community. The loss of educational prestige in the Acalanes District would affect all of its inhabitants whether they have children in school or not.

“I want to remain positive and keep parents and students calm,” said Clark. “But I want people to understand how dire the situation is going to be; everyone will be affected.”

However, the revenue from the proposed parcel tax will not impact current contract negotiations between the district and the teachers’ union, the Acalanes Education Association. Staff may still be subject to furlough days, increase in class sizes and capped health care benefits.

Furlough days reduce the number of work days for teachers, resulting in lower pay.  The state of California allows the district to use the six teacher staff development days and up to five student contact (regular school) days for furlough. In negotiations for the teachers’ 2010-2011 contract, the district claimed that each furlough day would save $110,000.

Although the district cancelled the last negotiation session, the teachers’ union and district are scheduled to meet on Feb. 8 to discuss next year’s teacher contract.

“AEA does not feel we are at impasse and hopes the district comes back to the table to negotiate,” said Nick Carpenter, AEA’s Lead Negotiator and MHS teacher.