SMMUSD HDQTRS — While the school district’s budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year was put to bed last week, the teachers union is continuing to raise concerns about the impact the cuts will have in the classroom, making its own recommendations on ways to save money.

In a June 24 letter to the Board of Education, the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association presented a list of 10 potential budget reductions that officials could consider for a school district that will increase class sizes and reduce one house in Santa Monica High School’s celebrated small learning communities system next fall, all a result of a state financial crisis that has trickled down.

Harry Keiley, the president of the teachers union, said that more than 50 percent — or more than $2 million — of the district’s cuts for the 2009-10 fiscal year will directly impact students in the classroom.

Teachers have addressed their concerns to the board on numerous occasions but do not believe they are being heard, Keiley said.

“With the reductions we’re asking for, not one employee will lose their job, not one will negatively impact students and the classroom,” he said. “They will help build on the district’s already (growing) $21 million in reserves.”

The SMMCTA said that teachers are already sacrificing a lot in this recession, including losing two professional development days, which reduces their annual income by $540, and the increased workload from losing 24 teachers next year. Keiley said the reduction in two dozen positions came from retirement and nonrenewal of contracts for temporary teachers.

Union leaders said that if adopted in its entirety, the recommendations would result in a total savings between $1.5 million to $2.3 million. Some of the suggested reductions include cutting the work year for district office administrators by at least 10 days in July and August, eliminating district testing and professional development, and suspending district paid cell phones, car allowances and contributions to 401K and tax sheltered annuities.

They are also recommending renegotiating the recently approved contract for Superintendent Tim Cuneo to eliminate his housing and car allowances, cut 25 paid vacation days and reduce his base pay by 10 percent, all of which will still keep his salary at approximately $200,000.

The union is also asking that the budget for consultants be reduced and contracts with legal firms be renegotiated.

“It’s difficult to ask teachers to make additional sacrifices when you see consulting contracts come before the board that are paying in excess of $100 an hour,” Keiley said.

The union said that while some districts have handled their budget problems responsibly, others have used the recession as a way to pull concessions from teachers.

One issue that the union and district are currently battling over is a proposed cap on employer contribution to health care.

Ralph Mechur, the school board president, said the district is exploring various options of keeping the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible, but added that furloughs and changes to benefits and salaries could be in the mix.

“Depending upon what the economic conditions are for next year, we may be in the same situation to make an additional $4 to $5 million worth of cuts unless other sources of revenue show,” Mechur said. “It will be difficult.”

The union also recommended ways the district could add to its reserves, including reducing its Post Employment Benefits Account by $1.2 million and defer purchasing about $1 million in new student information systems.

Also presented was a list of potential revenue sources that union officials said district officials should explore, including selling the Madison campus and Double Tree Hotel property, and perhaps a parcel tax.

The board is expected to discuss possibly forming a committee that will explore whether to ask voters for another parcel tax. The district currently receives more than $10 million in parcel tax revenues.

“We’re all very concerned about the impact the current economic crisis is going to potentially have on education,” Mechur said. “We’re more fortunate than many districts in the state in having built up the reserves that we have.

“We are using them to soften the changes that we have to make but it won’t last forever.”

melodyh@smdp.com

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