In response the your editorial (“SR school district faces urgent need to make cuts,” Sunday), it is inaccurate and unhelpful to blame teacher pensions or the recent, modest compensation increase for these necessary cuts. If Santa Rosa City Schools is to become a destination district for students and staff, cutting 31 teachers is the wrong decision.
SRCS’s structural deficit is a direct result of an accounting error made on the three-year budget created by district officials and approved by the school board in June 2016 (as your paper reported, “Santa Rosa schools face $19 million shortfall over next two years,” Jan 21, 2017). The increases to teacher pension contributions were included in that budget, but the errors were unexpected.
Why isn’t every other district in the state having the same budget crisis?
The modest increase in teacher salaries agreed to in December falls significantly short of cost-of-living adjustments and inflation over the three-year deal. The step-in-the-right-direction increase to health care still leaves Santa Rosa as the worst in Sonoma County for district health care contributions — 40th out of 40. We have to offer fair, competitive compensation if we are to attract and retain the best educators possible for our schools.
Cutting 31 teachers will be devastating to our students. It means significantly larger class sizes, more combo classes, fewer AP classes, fewer electives, and fewer elementary computer, art, music and PE classes. This will make it harder for students to learn and for teachers to teach.
It should be noted that the student-to-teacher ratio is 29 to 1, not 20 to 1. Last year when the district cut $4.5 million, they increased the ratio to 29 to 1. We did not cut a third of our teachers since then. This needs clarity before the board approves even larger class sizes by cutting classroom teachers.
There were options. On Wednesday night, the board made $7.2 million in cuts for next year, but only $6.2 million were needed to meet the target set by the district. Trimming the proposed solutions by $1.2 million would have saved 16 teaching jobs while still meeting the reductions target for 2018-19.
Cutting more than $6.2 million is a tempting idea, but with nearly half of the targeted cuts coming from eliminating teachers ($3 million) these cuts are too close to the classroom and our students. Considering Gov. Jerry Brown’s encouraging education budget proposal and the prospects of passing a much-needed wildfire mitigation bill, AB 2228, cutting more teachers than necessary doesn’t make sense at this time — we should see how these pan out before making extra cuts.
In the future, Santa Rosa City Schools should focus on increasing our average daily attendance (which is how schools are funded by the state) by reducing truancy rates and curbing declining enrollment caused by students who transfer to others districts; further trimming the amounts spent on consultants and lawyers and shifting more expenditures from the base grant to Local Control and Accountability Plan funding, freeing up unrestricted money that can be spent on retaining teachers and programs.
Our school board has some very tough decisions to make. They should use a scalpel, not a hatchet — and keep cuts as far away from our classrooms as possible to make Santa Rosa a destination district for our students and staff.