Veteran educator Rhonda Bellmer never thought she'd see the day when students' access to the school library would be considered an “extra.”
But when state funding cuts to the Healdsburg West Side District general fund hit 20 percent over four years, the money that was once spent offering all students an hour a week of library and computer lab was sacrificed to pay for an early literacy intervention program that Bellmer said is “essential.”
“Every penny is rooted in core programs. When your core program (budget) is cut 20 percent from what it was, technology and library programs are considered enrichment,” Bellmer, West Side's superintendent and principal, said. “You are using those dollars to pay for basic things.”
The financial woes of West Side are being played out across Sonoma County's 40 elementary and high school districts as about 71,000 students head back to class in the coming weeks.
This week alone, about 60,000 students will return to find larger class sizes, fewer classroom supplies, unkempt grounds, fewer hours in the library and in many cases a shorter school year.
In four communities, students will be changing schools after districts shuttered entire campuses to save money.
Since 2007-'08, state revenue to Sonoma County schools has dropped 18 percent, according to Denise Calvert, assistant superintendent of the county Office of Education.
Factor in cost-of-living adjustments that have historically been included but that have been missing or in the negative in recent years and the loss surges to 25 percent, Calvert said.
“I don't think the public really understands what 20 percent less means,” Bellmer said.
The budget travails are putting pressure on schools and staff in both large and small ways, educators said.
At Hidden Valley Elementary in Santa Rosa, well-meaning efforts to keep a tight rein on supply orders left the campus without toilet paper at the end of last school year.