The facts facing Santa Rosa City Schools are daunting, and they leave but one conclusion. When school board members gather for their regular meeting on Wednesday, they need to make deep cuts. And the impacts will be painful. For example, it could mean a 5 percent reduction in the number of teachers next year with more cuts to come the year after.
Here are some of the facts.
The district already had to cut $4.5 million from this year’s budget and faces a structural deficit of $12.7 million over the next two years. This is due largely to increased payments required for retirement costs to the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, increased labor costs and other expenses and relatively flat growth in revenues. In addition, Santa Rosa schools, which have experienced flat growth in enrollment in recent years, have seen a decline of 300 students since the fire, which is expected to cost the school $3 million in revenue. Further declines are expected over the summer break. (School funding in California is based on attendance.) The district is hoping to get some relief from a bill now in the Legislature that would protect the district from losses in revenue due to declining enrollment. But there is no guarantee that this legislation, AB 2228, will be approved.
On the budget front, the news at the state level is more encouraging given the governor’s proposals to increase school funding statewide and provide a one-time $4.2 million bump in revenue for the Santa Rosa district. But the funding increase proposed by the governor would merely bring the district back to where its funding levels were in 2007 just before the economy went in the tank.
In addition, teachers saw salaries increase by 1 percent on Jan. 1, and they will get another bump of 1.5 percent next year under a new two-year contract approved in December.
These cost increases and other factors make it all the more important that the district take action as quickly as possible. As school board President Jenni Klose noted during a meeting with The Press Democrat Editorial Board on Thursday, the district’s budget situation “is not going to get better. It may get worse.”
This week, school board members will be looking at proposals to make $6.2 million in cuts next year with another $6.5 million to be made the following year. The reductions could include the elimination of as many as 35 teachers and other staff positions starting in the fall. A number of those positions are already vacant or will be open due to anticipated retirements. The net impact is that the student-teacher ratio for SR schools is expected to increase to one teacher for each 21 students. That’s an increase of one student. The significance of that change is found primarily in the classes and programs that would be reduced or eliminated. The district is looking at various options such as cutting back on teacher “extra duty pay” for instruction and recess duty, reducing the district’s contracts with Restorative Justice services and cutting back on alternative education staff.
These are all difficult choices. The only wrong choice is to avoid making hard decisions by pretending that the situation will somehow improve by waiting. It won’t. The district’s reserves are already dangerously low, and there is no pot of gold hiding somewhere.