Tuesday, 28 May 2024

Lakeport Unified takes action to address $800,000 revenue shortfall

LAKEPORT – Facing its own significant budget challenges, on Thursday the Lakeport Unified School District Board of Trustees voted to take a number of cost-saving measures, including layoffs of teachers and classified staff. {sidebar id=130}

The board approved the layoffs of a total of 17 district employees – 13 classified staff and four certificated – in answer to $500,000 in lost revenue due to the state's budget cuts and a $300,000 revenue shortfall based on falling enrollment.

About 30 people attended the meeting, which lasted just short of an hour and a half at the district office.

Throughout the meeting the board and Superintendent Erin Smith-Hagberg emphasized that the options before them constituted painful and potentially damaging cuts to the district's $10 million budget.

The 13 classified staffers laid off included the director of buildings and grounds, the day care program provider, director of special programs, two part-time after school program aides, one maintenance worker, an elementary and middle school library clerk, a night custodian, a part-time paraeducator and a part-time site assistant at the daycare program.

One lead teacher, two K-6 multiple subject teachers and one counselor also were laid off.

Smith-Hagberg said after the meeting that some of those employees could be be hired back or their jobs recreated if the budget situation improves or if there are some retirements.

During her report to the board before the budget discussion, Doreen McGuire-Grigg, president of the Lakeport Unified Classified Employees Union, told the board members that their decisions were going to affect not just those laid off but students as well.

“I just want everybody to understand that there are cuts that are being made and there are other cuts that could be made instead,” McGuire-Grigg said.

She said classified employees took “a huge hit” last year, and are facing a 19 percent cut this year. The result is that people are losing their jobs and, in some cases their homes. Many of those losing jobs have been working for the district for decades.

McGuire-Grigg said the people needed to let state legislators know how school budget issues are affecting students.

“I know that you guys aren't sleeping,” McGuire-Grigg told the board.

She added, “It's just not fair to our kids.”

Smith-Hagberg told the board that the budget isn't just affecting schools but families of the district's children. She said the needs of families are becoming more pronounced.

The numbers of those children now on the reduced price lunch program are growing dramatically. Smith-Hagberg said 64 percent of the district's elementary students, 58 percent of middle schoolers and 47 percent of high schools now use the program.

“Our poverty level is getting higher and higher,” she said.

The district also is feeling the affects of dropping enrollment, with families and their children moving out of the district. That's despite the “fabulous job” schools do to keep attendance up.

As the board prepared to listen to Smith-Hagberg's budget presentation, Board President Tom Powers noted, “It's a very liquid budget. The budget isn't even final yet.”

He said a special May 19 state election will change the budget again. “What we're doing tonight is based on the best information we have.”

Smith-Hagberg explained that the election will ask voters to approve some new funding sources. If those sources aren't approved, the district may face more cuts.

“It's not just the state budget cuts that are affecting our district significantly,” said Hagberg, referring to the $300,000 in lost attendance revenue. If those students come back, teachers can be rehired, she added.

She said district business manager Linda Slockbower will be on a call on Friday to find out how much of the one-time federal stimulus money the district stands to get. “We know we're getting money for the district, we just don't know how much,” Smith-Hagberg said.

Describing how the district administration arrived at its suggestions of where to cut, Smith-Hagberg explained that she, Slockbower and site administrators began by looking at ways to move programs and money around to achieve savings without hurting programs and students.

With the help of the district's budget committee, they focused first on management and district operations, then turned to school principals to look at educational programs.

“You can only cut so much out of management and operations and still function as a district,” she said.

The list of proposals came from district principals, Smith-Hagberg said.

“That we have all agonized over this is an understatement,” she said, adding that a lot of students and employees are being hurt by what the district has to do.

Powers said they've had to make cuts several years in a row as the state has reduced its funding. “We're down to the bone.”

Smith-Hagberg also asked parents and teachers to speak up on behalf of their schools by calling or writing legislators.

Children coming into school next year will have a different education than they've had in past years due to what's on the list of cuts, she said. (For the full list, see sidebar, “What the district is cutting.”

During public comment, Lakeport Elementary third grade teacher Paula Mune said she's not taken extra compensation for having more than 20 students in her classroom. The parent teacher organization also has helped raise $60,000 over the years for many needed items, and even helped support a salary.

She asked that cuts be as far away from the frontline teaching staff as possible, and said she didn't understand why the district office needed five full-time employees while students are lacking music programs and classrooms need to be cleaned.

“I'm doing my part and I hope you will, too,” she said.

High school counselor Paul Larrea said families are falling apart, and children are looking for a safe haven at school, which isn't always the classroom. Sometimes it's the library, sometimes a sports activity, but those need to be available for children.

Larrea urged the board to refuse to let some cuts take place, and have the administration find other ways. “You need to take a stand on some of these things and say, 'We just can't let that happen.'”

Board member Phil Kirby was clear about the tough decisions before the board. “It's always remarkably difficult to take a look at cuts that affect personnel.”

He said he respects the efforts by the district's budget committee, Smith-Hagberg and administration staff to come up with ideas.

“There comes a time, however, that decisions have to be made,” he said.

Board member Dennis Darling said the budget process has been lengthy and difficult, and he doesn't think anyone is happy with any of the choices. He added that people in the best position to make recommendations are the ones guiding the process.

Powers asked that the district look at ways of expanding the daycare program to 12 months, since daycare needs continue through the summer months. The idea would be for the district to see more money for the services.

The board approved the midyear budget reductions and those for 2009-10 in a 4-1 vote, with Board member Robyn Stevenson voting no. The vote for the certificated staff layoff was 5-0, and Stevenson was again the lone dissenting vote on the resolution for laying off classified staff.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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