SMMUSD HDQTRS — There are no sacred cows. People will lose their jobs.

Staff laid out the grim budget reality to the Board of Education at a special meeting Saturday that proposed trimming $2 million a year out of the district’s expenditures, primarily through reductions in staff and faculty and increases in class size.

Under the proposal, 10 classroom teaching positions could be cut, as well as 10 positions in the Special Education department.

Site administrators, district office staff and site office staff are also on the table.

“None of these are areas that we think should be cut,” said Jan Maez, the district’s chief financial officer. “This is where we think the least amount of harm will be done.”

Employees account for 86 percent of the district’s expenditure, and are also one of the few things that the Board of Education can cut unilaterally without going to the negotiating table with unions.

The proposed cuts would impact almost all subject areas at the secondary level, including mathematics, social studies, English and foreign languages, while the elementary level would lose general education teachers.

A strong showing by parents and activists committed to the elementary school music program helped to save the four positions out of that 10-position department that had been put on the chopping block.

“Kids in the barrios in Venezuela will have music, but we’re not sure about here in Santa Monica,” said Zina Josephs, secretary of the district’s visual and performing arts advisory committee.

Cuts proposed by staff in opening presentations were actually deeper, with an additional three classroom teaching positions, several high school counselors and the music positions up for elimination.

Board member Jose Escarce, however, put forth an alternate proposal that required $2 million in reductions by eliminating positions and another $2 million from unspent fund balances.

Those unspent balances are essentially surprise money left over at the end of the budgeting cycle as a result of overly-cautious spending practices.

Over the last several years, the district has had roughly $2 million at the end of its budget cycle that board members want to use to plug the hole in the current budget.

School budgets, however, have to be vetted by the county Department of Education, a place where wishful thinking doesn’t fly, Maez said.

“I think we could have pushback from the county,” she told board members. “They might look questionably at the $2 million of unspent funds. It’s very much a question of if they can approve it.”

Under Escarce’s proposal, class sizes would also grow at every level with the exception of four elementary schools that receive money from the federal government, also known as Title 1.

The proposed staff reductions represent an initial attempt to solve a much larger money problem facing the district.

The district has a structural deficit of $4.6 million, and will be forced to cope with another $2.2 million cut under Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget that does away with a cost of living adjustment that school officials were told to expect.

Also uncertain is the fate of $4 million in state funding that will only come through if California voters pass a tax measure that raises money for education on the November ballot.

Unfortunately for school officials, there are two competing proposals — one by Brown and one by activist Molly Munger — which reduces the likelihood that either will pass.

“I think we have to be serious and honest and say that it’s not even close to a slam dunk,” said Vice President Laurie Lieberman.

Saturday’s meeting was merely the opening salvo in what promises to be a long, complicated dollar dance at the district office.

No teaching positions will be eliminated immediately based on the discussions, but staff will have the ability to begin a process to identify which teachers and staff will get notices on March 15 informing them that they may not have a position the next year.

District officials have to tell them definitively by May 15.

If employees aren’t noticed by March 15, no employees can be let go, said Debra Moore Washington, the district’s human resources officer.

“We need the flexibility to get started or we can’t start at all,” she said.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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