Committee recommends Lucia budget solutions

Suggestions such as pay cuts, school closures and trims to sports programs were brought up at the final meeting of a Lucia Mar committee tasked with debating solutions to close a $5 million shortfall expected in next fiscal year’s $52 million budget.

Superintendent Jim Hogeboom will use the committee’s ideas as he prepares recommendations for the school board to discuss at its April 20 meeting.

The South County district is the largest in San Luis Obispo County, with more than 10,700 students, 17 schools and an Adult Education Program.

“No one is going to like these decisions, whether it’s increasing class size or by cutting counselors,” Hogeboom said. “We still have a deficit we have to address.”

The committee, composed of school administrators, union officials, teachers and community members, suggested cuts to salary and benefits as one way to help close the gap.

Meeting for the last time on Thursday, they also discussed taking furlough days, reducing the sports budget — currently about $750,000 — and lowering transportation spending.

The school board in March voted to issue 83 initial layoff notices for 71.9 teaching, counseling and administrative positions. Final notices must be issued by May 15.

“We would like to retain as much of our staff as possible,” said Kevin Statom, president of the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association, who suggested an early retirement program could save money and avoid layoffs.

The open positions could be filled with younger teachers, reducing the payroll by about $1 million if 40 people retire, he said.

The board might also look at the possibility of closing a school — which could save $300,000 a year or more — but that discussion likely wouldn’t happen until December.

The idea of a parcel tax was also raised but might be tough to pass in this economic climate, Statom said.

Nathan Alvarado of Arroyo Grande, whose son attends Judkins Middle School, is one of the parents on the panel. He suggested cuts to salaries and benefits rather than layoffs, which would increase class sizes.

“It must be shared pain, and I think the kids have suffered enough,” said.

Schools countywide face cuts to programs, teacher layoffs and increased class sizes as district leaders grapple with budget shortfalls. School boards are expected to deal with them in the 2011-12 school year.

“Where do we go if we need another $3 million to $4 million?” Hogeboom said. “If we’re not making cuts, we’re not being proactive for next year.”

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated on Twitter by following @SouthCountyBeat.