To the disappointment of a crowd gathered at Canyon Middle School on Thursday, trustees unanimously opted to go forward with increasing class sizes and teacher layoffs in light of budget uncertainties at the state level.
The Castro Valley Unified School District, which has been spending reserves to hold on to programs, faces a $4.7 million shortfall because of state cuts in the past four years. That deficit will grow this year, but by how much depends on whether voters pass a state tax measure in November to bolster school funding.
The district has $5.5 million in usable reserves, which could be tapped to preserve programs. But if the tax doesn't pass, Castro Valley Unified would be in the red to the tune of $2.5 million -- the amount of cuts that were addressed at this week's special meeting.
"We can't pretend that's not going to happen if it might," said trustee Janice Friesen. "We have to figure out a way to handle this so if the bottom falls out in November, there is a way to function into next year."
But among the 120-member crowd, the sentiment was to use reserves, keep the jobs and not raise class sizes for children in kindergarten through third grade, from 25 to 28 pupils per teacher.
"While we have money, we need to buy as much education for as many children as possible for as long as we can," said John Green, a history teacher at Castro Valley High School and the head of the teachers union.
Students, parents and teachers talked about already crowded classrooms in higher grades and the detrimental effect it has on learning. Many of the pupils who spoke were high school seniors who won't be affected by the cuts but urged trustees to maintain funding so other children would enjoy the same opportunities they had.
Four of the affected teaching positions are at secondary schools, while 14 are related to the increased class sizes. Other cuts include maintenance and operations, mental health and intervention programs. Some of the items taken off the block during last month's budget workshops include counselors, assistant principals at secondary schools, elementary school physical education specialists and fifth-grade music.
It's common for school districts to issue more preliminary pink slips than will actually result in layoffs because of budgetary murkiness that becomes clearer by the time the governor revises his budget proposal in May.
Mike Bush, deputy superintendent of business services, said the district will continue to monitor for "good news" until the May 15 deadline for final layoff notices, but Superintendent Jim Negri acknowledged that this is an unusual year because so much of the potential hit is tied to the tax measure, the results of which won't be known until November.
Green warned the board that the decision can't be undone.
"You can cut teachers now, but you can't get them back in December if the tax passes," he said.
Negri said some of the early pink slips likely will be rescinded, however, because resignations, retirements and extended maternity leaves that will allow some positions to be pulled back.
Castro Valley trustees are proud of their fiscal record, and board President Kunio Okui read a statement from the Alameda County Board of Education praising them for prudence in money matters.
Board member John Barbieri raised the specter of what has happened to schools that did not make necessary cuts.
It can result in the county imposing fiscal advisers to oversee district spending, as happened at Hayward Unified in 2010, and ultimately in a state takeover, which occurred in Oakland and West Contra Costa districts.
Trustee Jo Loss said a third of the state's children are in districts with an unbalanced budget.
"We don't want Castro Valley to be there," she said.
Castro Valley unified school district
Amount of the shortfall faced by the district because of cumulative loss of state funding over the past four years.