State budget cuts straining school districts

November 8, 2008 4:49:00 PM PST
It won't be much of a Veterans Day holiday for many school officials who are making tough budget decisions. This week Governor Schwarzenegger called for $4.5 billion in education cuts to close a massive $11 billion state budget gap.

The school board in Concord held a rare Saturday budget session.

It was bad enough already.

When Mount Diablo school board members arrived at the special meeting Saturday morning at district headquarters they already had a long list of proposed budget cuts. But, after developments this week in Sacramento they may have to take that list and triple it.

"Ten million dollars worth of reduction would devastate the infrastructure of the school district," said Mt. Diablo Superintendent Gary McHenry.

McHenry says the district cannot fire any of its 1900 teachers because they are hired for the length of the school year, so the reductions would have to come from other areas.

"We could reduce certain administrators maybe at the district office, classified managers, custodians, groundsmen? We would have to look at all mandated services and try to wipe that out," said McHenry.

"Does anybody understand in Sacramento what the ramifications are of saying we're going to get $10 million out of your budget in the middle of the year? I mean, the budget process in Sacramento has got to change. This cannot continue," said Mt. Diablo School Board Member Gary Eberhart.

The district was already looking at laying off 118 employees and reducing summer school and teacher training programs.

Sherry Whitmarsh was elected to the Mount Diablo School Board just four days ago and says, "I'm not sure how the schools are going to be able to offer anything but bare bones if we have go to the level that the governor is expecting at mid-year cuts."

Mount Diablo parent Amber Isherwood has a little girl entering a Mount Diablo kindergarten next fall. Now she's looking into private schools.

"I'm just weighing the costs right now because I don't know what this could mean. It's not that it's not possible to get a good education through a public school, it very much is. It's just what would she have to give up if these budget cuts go through," she said.

The Mount Diablo School Board was planning to finalize their budget cuts by February of next year. But if the Governor has his way, this district and others across the Bay Area may have to come up with a much longer list of cuts in just the next several weeks.


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