At the start of the 2019-20 school year, Calaveras Unified School District is facing an almost half-million dollar shortfall, mounting class sizes and the possibility one of its historic elementary schools may have to close.

“In terms of the overall big picture of the district, it's all about fiscal stability. That's the biggest one for me,” said Superintendent Mark Campbell. “We’re trying to find a balance with programs, but the budget does have to be the overarching thing we look at.”

About 2,790 Calaveras Unified School District students returned Wednesday for the first day of school. But while most students were participating in peer-driven introductory activities, Campbell said much of his attention still remained on imminent budget cuts.

Even after cutting $1.8 million from staffing and budgets in the 2018-19 school year, the district is still facing an approximately $450,000 shortfall.

The county office has conditionally approved the 2019-20 budget with the stipulation the district must submit a budget reduction plan showing $450,000 in cuts with their first interim, Campbell said.

“The plan isn’t mapped out yet. We don't have a tremendous amount of area to cut anymore,” Capmbell said.

One option would be the closing Rail Road Flat Elementary School, a K-6 school founded in the mid-1850s that serves 46 students, he said.

Closing the campus would save approximately $100,000 to $150,000, but there were unknown variables about where students would go to and if that would dramatically affect class sizes at other schools.

Small cuts to departments and sites would also be expected, he said, but most likely staffing would take another hit.

“That's the hard part,” Campbell said.

For the 2019-20 year, CUSD has a total revenue of approximately $31.8 million and expenditures of approximately $32.3 million.

The district includes Calaveras High School, Gold Strike Continuation High School, Sierra Hills independent study, Toyon Middle School and elementary schools in Jenny Lind, Mokelumne Hill, Valley Springs, West Point, San Andreas and Railroad Flat.

The $1.8 million in cuts from last year came from three teachers leaving Calaveras High School — one voluntarily transferred to Toyon Middle School, one retired and one transferred to Valley Springs Elementary School. At Toyon Middle School, one teacher was laid off and another retired. The district also chose not to replace a retiring band teacher who served all the elementary schools and laid off 10 paraprofessionals (they have between 80 to 90 paraprofessionals district-wide, with most serving as special education aides), Campbell said.

The district has also committed to vacating two teaching positions, five paraprofessional positions and one district office position by the end of the year as a part of the $1.8 million cuts, Campbell said.

The district is still facing qualified status during their first interim budget update in December, meaning they may not be able to meet their fiscal commitments within a three-year budget projection.

And the district needs even more funding, Campbell said, to maintain facilities in need of repair or expansion.

“We feel the only option we have as opposed to watching facilities deteriorate is seeking a bond from our community,” Campell said.

Campbell said the district was in the exploratory phase for an approximately $22 million bond, which would appear on the November 2020 ballot.

At Calaveras High School, the almost 50-year old career and technical education compound is one of the most in need of updates, he said.

“Our CTE programs have just expanded so much. We need to create more space. We need a more solid structure in place,” Campbell said. “We can't afford to do what we need to do wit the existing revenue we have.”

Campbell also noted district-wide updates to heating and air conditioning, roofing and technology infrastructure, as well as new turf on the Calaveras High School football field. Multi-purpose rooms at West Point Elementary and Railroad Flat Elementary would also need updates, as well as building a bigger, regulation-sized gym at Toyon Elementary School to accommodate new students shifted over from elementary schools, he said.

The district has contracted a bond oversight group to poll the community about their readiness for the project in September and October.

In November, the board will determine if they want to initiate or stop the project.

Campbell said the transformation of the district was not just predicated on fiscal concerns, but how to more equitably allow access to educational services and promote positive campus-culture ideals.

Over 130 students from Jenny Lind Elementary School and Valley Springs Elementary Schools are attending Toyon Middle School, which until last year was only for seventh and eighth graders, Campbell said.

Toyon Middle School students are involved in integrated activities over the next three days such as scavenger hunts where they learn personal information about their peers to make connections. Moving the sixth graders to the new site was bolstered by a program known as Positive Behavior Intervention and Support, Campbell said, “a way of looking at our culture and climate how we discipline students and be more proactive culture building.”

At Calaveras High School, returning students led a presentation about good conduct and decision making, he said.

Jenny Lind Elementary School and Valley Springs Elementary Schools are now K-5 schools, he said.

“That’s been seen as a real positive. Those were rather large schools with only a principal to oversee them,” Campbell said. “Obviously the fifth grade kids love it because they are the top dogs on campus.”

Also included in the campus shuffle was moving Gold Strike to the Calaveras High School campus and eliminating the portable classrooms at its former site on Gold Strike Road. The district also reduced the staff from three to two teachers.

Gold Strike will now be held in its own room on campus and students will have a seperate lunch period from Calaveras High School.

At Toyon Middle School, class sizes have increased to about 32 to 36 students at Toyon Middle School in english and social studies and 34 to 40 students at Calaveras High School in social studies and math.

“It's obviously it’s more work for the reacher and that obviously impacts the culture climate,” Campbell said. “There's not anything substantive we can do to reduce the class sizes.”

He added that a ratio of more than 30 students per teacher triggered a compensation increase for teachers.

District-wide enrollment on Wednesday was at about 2,790 students, about twenty above where the district finished last year.

Campbell said his hope was that the number stayed flat. Enrollment has declined about two percent a year — about 60 students — since 2003, he said.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.