SAN LORENZO — At the end of an emotional meeting filled with dire budget forecasts, San Lorenzo schools Superintendent Dr. Dennis Byas dropped a bombshell on Tuesday: He instructed the district's high school principals to immediately prepare for a switch from the current "block" schedule to a traditional six-period day.
The move came as a surprise because the district's school board decided earlier this spring to back off discussion of switching high schools from a block schedule — four 90-minute classes per day, per year — to a six-period day. The move followed outcry from parents and teachers who flooded a February meeting to voice opposition to any potential switch.
A reason given at the time for supporting a switch: Fewer teachers would be needed for a six-period day. Some teachers said switching schedules was simply a cost-cutting measure.
The matter reappeared suddenly Tuesday night with Byas' announcement.
"Why was the announcement left until the end of the evening?" San Lorenzo Education Association President Cathy Lee asked. "It was said and then it was adjourned with no public comment."
Byas was out sick Wednesday and couldn't be reached for comment, but Assistant Superintendent Sharon Lempel said Byas chose to make the announcement during his second report of the night.
Lee said the switch will likely result in more layoffs before August.
The district has been struggling to close a $7.8 million budget shortfall and has spent the spring scrambling to make cuts from its $100 million annual budget. More than 65 probationary and permanent teachers have received layoff notices, and 73 temporary teachers will not be returning in the fall. Class sizes for K-6 and the ninth grade will be increasing from 20 students per teacher to 24.
Rumors have spread regarding a further increase in class sizes to 28 students per teacher for grades K-3. Lampel said there has been no discussion on that matter, although she said it remains a possibility.
Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Lowell Shira gave the board a briefing on the "status of the state budget," and said that the state will be reducing the district's budget by $350 per student, which will result in at least another $4 million in cuts.
"This has been the most difficult year in the state and nationally since the Great Depression," Byas said at Tuesday's meeting. "The only relief we're going to get is when the state economy and the national economy turn around."
Lee urged the board to "be bold," show leadership and even consider bankruptcy.
Byas responded later, saying, "For anyone to ask or say to an elected official, 'Now is the time for bold leadership, be bold and take our school district into bankruptcy to send a message to the state' is as wise as saying to everyone, 'Be bold, stop making your house payments and let's see what the results will be.'""
The board will hold a special meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the district office, 15510 Usher St.
Jason Sweeney covers San Lorenzo. Reach him at 510-293-2469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.