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Santa Rosa City Schools to hold meetings seeking input on looming budget cuts

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Santa Rosa City Schools officials are considering an array of potential moves, from cuts in staff training to larger class sizes for middle and high school students, as they seek to address a budget deficit that has ballooned to $12 million over the next three years.

District officials have set forth several possible options to trim $4 million from next year’s budget. They include making additional cuts to professional development, which in return would reduce the need for substitute teachers. They’re also considering increasing over the next few years the number of students in middle and high school classrooms from 28 to 31. That change, which would not apply to special education classes, including English-language development, would result in a reduction of 15 teacher positions next year, Superintendent Diann Kitamura said.

“We’re working very hard analyzing our master schedules and ensuring we are being efficient. If we have classes running with less than 20 or 15 students, we really need to think about (them),” Kitamura said.

The current annual budget is $180 million. The bleak financial outlook for the district, the largest in Sonoma County, is because of a combination of rising staff costs, state funding shortfalls and multimillion-dollar accounting errors discovered last year, officials have said.

No decisions have been made over what to cut to close the budget gap, which was previously reported as $19 million over the next two years. Kitamura said she wants to hear from the public before taking any recommendations to the board.

“We want to make sure we get everybody’s input,” she said.

The district launched this past Thursday the first in a series of roundtable discussions aimed at addressing residents’ questions and seeking their input on where to make trims. The district will hold two roundtable meetings on Thursday — at Montgomery High School at 4 p.m. and Ridgway High School at 6 p.m. — and a third at 5 p.m. on Feb. 14 at Ridgway High.

The meetings will be held in the schools’ multipurpose rooms.

Residents unable to attend the roundtable meetings can email their comments to: myquestions@srcs.k12.ca.us.

“We are optimistic that we can save money in ways that make us a more efficient system,” said Jenni Klose, school board president. “We are eager to get staff and public input as to how to prioritize and balance the possible solutions.”

District officials blamed higher retirement costs, lower than expected state funding and errors in past budgets for the deficit. The district’s 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 left their posts after the mistakes came to light.

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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