San Luis Coastal school trustees make cuts worth $4.5 million

acornejo@thetribunenews.comMay 23, 2012 

San Luis Coastal school trustees narrowly agreed to cut more than $4.5 million from the 2012-13 budget that will change the way elementary music is taught, alter the way that English learners receive specialized instruction and ultimately lead to larger class sizes.

The board voted 4-3 Tuesday night to make the cuts. Superintendent Eric Prater has said that the reductions are needed to compensate for state budget reductions, to pay for raises given to teachers in January and to cover the added cost of the district’s newly revamped five-year strategic plan.

Trustees Walter Millar, Marilyn Rodger and Ellen Sheffer voted against the plan.

The budget cuts mirror reductions recommended by Prater, with two exceptions. In one case, the majority decided to keep a registered nurse rather than adopt Prater’s proposal to shift that position to a licensed vocational nurse at a savings of $60,000.

The board also decided to keep three of four music specialists to assist in elementary music instruction, but not in first through third grades, where they originally taught.

Eliminating the music instructors from those grades, and asking teachers to take on the duty, drew a rash of criticism from the public when the option was first discussed two weeks ago.

Millar said he was concerned that not enough money was being cut and that the board majority had tweaked recommendations made by Prater without knowing the exact impact on the budget.

Administrators have identified an $8.5 million structural deficit in the fiscal year budget that begins July 1. The district will use reserve funds to offset the gap in 2012-13 but will ask the board to make more cuts next year.

“We are just postponing the inevitable,” Millar said.

Board President Chris Ungar said he was also concerned with the financial future of the district, but that he was confident in the cuts he voted to support Tuesday night.

“I don’t think it is going to have a major impact on classroom learning,” Ungar said.

The main impacts to students will be larger classes, fewer electives and less money for high school athletics travel.

Other cuts include a $250,000 trim from special education.

Sheffer said she would have voted for the budget had it been in line with what Prater recommended, instead of including the changes made by the majority.

“I knew there would be some folks unhappy,” Sheffer said. “It is impossible to please everyone and, frankly, that is not our job. Our job is to maintain jobs and educate children. The proposal by the superintendent would have done those things.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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