Sonoma County schools reopening amid budget fears

A trickle began this week, but the real tsunami of back-to-school waves hits Monday as students in Sonoma County's largest school district say goodbye to summer and head back into the classroom.

In addition to the more than 16,500 students expected to attend Santa Rosa City Schools classrooms, students in Bellevue, Mark West, Twin Hills and Wilmar are heading back. The fall semester at Santa Rosa Junior College also begins Monday.

"I'm nervous and happy," incoming Santa Rosa Middle School seventh-grader Alex Reynolds said of his move to middle school.

"Just being in a new school, that makes everybody nervous," he said, standing in line for his class schedule Friday. "But I'm just excited to go to a new school and find new friends and experience new things."

Cotati-Rohnert Park School District and Sonoma State University begin classes Tuesday, and the biggest wave of returning kindergarten through 12th graders will be Wednesday when Petaluma, Rincon Valley, Roseland, West Sonoma County, Oak Grove, Old Adobe and others go back to class.

"The tone around here is as positive as I've ever seen it," said Healdsburg Superintendent Jeff Harding.

The 1,900-student district, which started class on Thursday, was able to add back five classroom days for the 2012-2013 school year, bringing the calendar back to 180 days.

Yet budget insecurity remains a dominant theme in many of the county's 40 school districts this year.

Officials are watching closely the outcome of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative on the November ballot because passage could stave off further cuts.

Brown's initiative proposes raising income tax rates on a sliding scale on incomes of more than $250,000 for seven years and increasing the state sales tax by a quarter percentage point for four years to help ease state budget woes. If voters reject it, the Legislature could impose about $6 billion in automatic cuts, primarily to schools and higher education.

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