Novato school district prepares for layoffs

February 4, 2009 5:35:40 PM PST
The lack of money from the state means the city of Novato's school district is now considering laying off 60 teachers, cutting out all sports programs and shutting down a middle school.

There was an appropriate level of irony to Sharon Zwerin's lecture at Hill Middle School in Novato. Her subject was about Pandora's box.

"It's sad... it's sad," said Zwerin.

She said that in reference to the proposed district budget cuts that could close the middle school campus, and put 60 people, including teachers, out of work. There is a fund gap so dire that the superintendent doesn't sleep much at night.

"I wish we had fat to cut. We have done so much for so long," said Jan La Torre-Derby, the superintendent of the Novato Unified School District.

Novato's budget woes are just another sidebar to the state's budget deficit. The district must assume that the state will cut educational funding. In turn, it must warn employees that some of them may lose their jobs. So, after cutting $9 million in the last three years, the district is now looking to cut at $3.5 million more.

"Here we are in February. What other business in the world can operate without a budget and schools are required to do it year in and year out," said Pam Conklin, the principal of Hill Middle School.

And this situation is coming in one of America's most wealthy counties. In the past, when Novato schools cut money for music and the arts, the community stepped in with fundraisers.

Now, athletics are on the chopping block which is a $45,000 line-item that could cost the district even more, because some athletes will leave. Each student is worth $8,000 in state funds to the district.

"Most of the anger is rightfully directed twards the government in Sacramento. We haven't created this situation, they have," said Dale Kline, from the athletic booster.

Novato will make its recommendations in about a week. It's a matter of assuming the worst, and hoping for better from the state.