Mt. Diablo Unified makes harsh cuts

June 2, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
In the California budget crisis, the state struggles to get control of its ballooning deficit and communities everywhere are already feeling the pain. The Mt. Diablo Unified School District just learned its deficit has grown by another $10 million. At a school board meeting in Concord, painful decisions were discussed.

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Around 10:30 p.m., the auditorium cleared out pretty fast after the school board unanimously approved 15 cuts amounting to $28 million. About 145 teachers will be gone as well as all 5th grade music. That's just to name a few of the cuts.

"You might be saving money by cutting the budget now, but you are incurring a debt for our future that we cannot ever repay," said parent Martha Alexander.

Mt. Diablo Unified School District recommends increasing all elementary classes from 20 to possibly 31 students to save about $9 million.

"I think the first four years of children's education is extremely important. It sets them up for success. If we take that small window and time away from them, I don't think we'll ever get it back," said teacher Katy Southerland.

About 145 teachers would have to be laid off. Also recommended to save another million, the district will have to eliminate all 5th grade music. One jazz band from College Park High got its start from the 5th grade music program.

"I would definitely not be here without 5th grade music because I would have quit back when I was young, if they didn't have this option for me to play in school," said Zica Ramacier with the College Park High School jazz band.

School board president, Gary Eberhart, says the district has the money to keep teachers, but half of its budget is tied up in restricted funds. This year, the district has to buy new math books even though the existing ones are still in good shape.

"Algebra hasn't changed since Plato," says Eberhart.

Eberhart wants the schools to use the millions of dollars set aside for textbooks and put it in the general fund.

"So in our case we'd be able to offset the 135 teachers that we're going to lay off tonight," says Eberhart.

Eberhart says schools need more flexibility to deal with this budget crisis.

Last month, Mt. Diablo School District voters did not approve Measure D. It would have assessed a parcel tax to raise $21 million over three years, which is exactly what this district needs right now.

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