Speakers sympathized with board members of the San Ramon Unified School District Tuesday night even as they voted to raise class sizes and give layoff notices to 136 teachers and other employees.
The school board's decision will raise class sizes to 28 and eliminate some high school counselors and other positions for a possible total reduction of 136.45 fulltime employees as well as two administrators and two assistant principals.
The school district is looking at a $30 million shortfall over the next two years due to state cuts to education. The state education code mandates that districts send out pink slips by March 15 to anyone who possibly might not be retained for the 2010-11 school year.
A crowd at the last meeting begged the board to spare individual programs. Last night was again standing room only but everyone seemed to accept that the district was forced to OK the loss of positions. Speakers said they hoped that the actual cuts made by May 15 would not be so severe, after the district has negotiated with the employee organizations.
"I want to say thank you for everything you do for the kids in this valley," parent Gayle Larsen told the school board and administrators. "We have a system that's broken and has been cobbled together. But there are those of us in the district who understand that you're doing your very best."
She noted that furlough days for teachers, which are also being discussed as a way to save money, amount to pay cuts and are also painful for parents as many must find day care when school days are canceled.
"Compared to other districts, we get the biggest bang for our buck," she continued. "And the district's stellar relationship with the city of San Ramon and the town of Danville is unique."
Larsen also commended the rapport between the parent and teacher groups and the district.
"It takes teamwork of the highest caliber to get through times like this," she said.
After Assistant Superintendent Roberta Silverstein introduced the resolution to reduce or eliminate services "with sadness," a first-grade teacher took to the microphone to plead against raising the lower grades to 28 students.
"One-fourth of our kids are at-risk kids," said Natasha Progar. "The prospect of going to 28:1 is frightening to me. How can I reach those eight kids? It's going to overwhelming--for the students and for the teachers."
Parent Tom Moore, a member of the PTA Legislative Committee, asked that the district limit class size increases to 26 students.
"This may soften the jolt," he said. "A two-step approach will provide big dividends."
Bill Clarkson was the first trustee to speak.
"What is there to say? There are no choices here," he commented. "There are cuts here that are unconscionable."
"Do we cut off our arm or cut off our leg?" asked Trustee Ken Mintz. "All of these numbers mean people--136.45 full-time employees. We are affecting a lot more jobs and people's lives by taking this action tonight."
He thanked board president Rachel Hurd for personally answering the hundred or so e-mails that parents sent, individually giving them explanations for the cuts they were questioning.
"Eighty-seven percent of our budget is people," remarked Trustee Greg Marvel. "When we abandon the kids, we also abandon the people who've dedicated their lives to the kids."
He also noted that the action is preliminary and thanked the employee organizations for stepping forward and being willing to make concessions so everyone could keep their jobs.
"Two plus two is always four," he added. "You can hope and pray it's five but it's always four."
Hurd said she, too, was reluctant to support the resolution but it was something the board had to do. She said she realized that pink slips affected those who receive them even if they know they might be rescinded.
"Even though they know it's nothing personal, they feel like it is," she said. "There really is no fat left in this district. We've been cutting and cutting and cutting."
"I appreciate that all of you came to watch us vote on this dismal resolution," she added. "We'll make it work for the kids – but each one has only one chance at first grade, second grade."
The cuts were approved unanimously 4-0 with Trustee Paul Gardner absent. At the end of the meeting, Superintendent Steve Enoch thanked the board members for their comments.
"They were wise," Enoch said. "It makes me sad – and proud – to be a California educator."
He reiterated that behind every layoff is a family being affected, even by the worry of a layoff.
"We also do pretty incredible work," he said, noting rising test scores and other indicators. "Because we do such good work, they feel they can cut away at us."
He said that the schools' share of state cuts has actually been 58 percent, higher than is normally stated, because other cuts have not gone through due to court cases and other processes.
"We're in the same boat together and it's leaking. I just hope it doesn't sink," Enoch said. "I can't say that everything is going to be fine. It's not going to be fine."