Bret Harte High School staff members asked the school’s Board of Trustees on Monday to consider cost-saving measures other than layoffs.
Two teachers and Assistant Principal Verne Johnson questioned the board’s decision-making process and asked it to slash expenses other than teaching positions.
Johnson asked whether board members had considered giving up the $11,347 they each receive in health benefits from Bret Harte. The total in board member benefits amounts to almost $57,000, which Johnson said could pay for a teacher.
“I hope that we’re not overlooking some areas where we can save money so we can save some jobs,” Bret Harte music teacher David Allured said earlier in the meeting.
He said he would be willing to see his own department’s budget trimmed in order to save jobs.
The district is serving up preliminary layoff notices to seven teachers this month and has until May 15 to finalize them. Some will see their working hours reduced, but as many as four stand to lose their jobs entirely.
The pared teaching staff will translate into fewer class sections, though Superintendent and Principal Mike Chimente said he doesn’t anticipate class sizes exceeding statewide averages.
The biggest cuts would happen in the social studies, math and alternative education departments. Social studies could be reduced by eight class sections next year; math and alternative education could each lose six sections.
Bret Harte may also eliminate a school administrator position. Chimente has said he can only name it if the notice is finalized later this year.
Four support staffers also stand to lose their jobs, in addition to the retiring food service director whose job won’t be replaced.
The proposed layoffs are an effort by Chimente and the board to reduce deficit spending, which will amount to almost $800,000 this year, according to district Chief Business Official Gloria Carrillo.
Bret Harte has depleted its reserve funds level to near the legal minimum, meaning it could risk being unable to meet its financial obligations in coming years.
Unlike most other Mother Lode schools, Bret Harte is a “community funded” district that gets the majority of its money from property tax revenues.
Proposition 30, the temporary tax increase passed by California voters in November, helped Bret Harte avoid midyear budget cuts. But some impacts of the measure remain unclear for community-funded districts like Bret Harte, Carrillo said.
On Monday, in her second budget report for the 2012-13 fiscal year, she emphasized that staff salaries and benefits are 82 percent of the district’s general fund budget — meaning that they’re a target for cuts.
“Have you heard us say what we think?” social studies teacher Cathy Stelling asked the board. “Can we go through this as a group?”
Both Stelling and Johnson got sharp responses from Board of Trustees President Joan Lark, who said uncertainty surrounded the district’s funding sources.
“We have discussed the budget for months,” Lark said. “There are so many unknowns to us. We do not know what Governor Brown is going to do. We do not know what our tax base is going to be....
If any of you thinks any of us likes doing this, you’re wrong,” she finished.
Chimente said the district has already trimmed $80,000 from its budget in supply and maintenance costs.
“It’s the numbers that we don’t have at this point that scares the bejeebers out of us,” he said.
In addition to Brown’s state budget revisions in May, new information on local property tax projections could alter the financial outlook for Bret Harte.
But Chimente has also said only a “huge” increase in property tax revenue would allow the district to avoid layoffs altogether.