Santa Rosa City Schools board members unanimously approved Wednesday night a plan that will strip more than $4.5 million from next year’s budget.
The district will cut an equivalent of 13 full-time teaching jobs. Half will be done through attrition, while the district will attempt to avoid handing out pink slips by shuffling around faculty, said Jenni Klose, board president.
“It might require some staffing adjustments,” she said after the meeting. “At the end of the day, it’s possible we don’t lay off anybody.”
Superintendent Diann Kitamura said the possibility of layoffs also could be “lessened or canceled through additional retirements or resignations.”
Board members have been under pressure to reduce their budget by $4 million in each of the next two years. Overall, the district faces a $12 million shortfall spread over the next three years.
District officials blamed the deficit on higher retirement contribution costs, lower than expected state funding and errors in past budgets. They’ve also seen lower enrollment, which is expected to drop by another 134 students next year.
The county’s largest school district, it operates on an annual budget of $180 million and employs about 1,600 people in 23 schools attended by 16,400 students. Its deficit prompted a warning in September from the Sonoma County Office of Education, which monitors local school district budgets.
“There is nothing about this process that is enjoyable,” board member Bill Carle said on Wednesday to a crowd of about 50, which included faculty, support staff, students and parents.
The district previously reduced its staff training by $500,000.
Kitamura previously said that cutting staff training will reduce the need for substitute teachers. That, then, will provide an additional savings of about $250,000, she explained.
The district also eliminated all vacant positions, including four for restorative response specialists, who work on behaviorial and discipline issues. That raised concerns among several people, including Shari Garn, who works as a restorative specialist at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. She said it’s difficult to quantify the impact restorative specialists have in the district since their work with students is more preventative.
“We’re working to change the hearts and minds. We’re working to change culture,” she said. “That takes time.”
Carle said the board will looking at bringing those and other eliminated positions back in the future. “It doesn’t mean that they aren’t needed,” Carle said to Wednesday’s crowd.
Attendance was smaller than at previous meetings, where faculty, staff and parents aired frustrations over potential cuts and impacts on students. They also complained about not feeling included in the budgeting process early on or being told about the multimillion-dollar accounting errors discovered last year that exacerbated the budget crunch.
Finance staff failed to properly account for about $3 million the district spent on substitute teachers, overtime and hourly extra assignments for teachers and other district employees. Two of the district’s top financial executives, Carolyn Bischof and Steve Eichman, left their posts after the mistakes came to light. Klose argued at a meeting last month that the errors did not affect the bottom line. She said they were just “categorical errors.”