Del Mar school board continues to discuss options to address budget woes

By Karen Billing

Furloughs, bumping up class sizes, limiting librarian hours and reducing maintenance and operations staff are all being discussed as potential solutions for the Del Mar Union School District’s budget woes.

The district is staring down a $4.5 million deficit for the current school year and is on track to deficit spend approximately $4 million for 2013-14.

“The district cannot continue to deficit spend the way we are spending and be a fiscally solid district,” Superintendent Holly McClurg said, before presenting her budget solutions at the Feb. 27 district board meeting.

In dealing with the budget, McClurg said she has aimed to keep the community as involved as possible. She has held informational meetings at various school sites over the last few months and about 420 people attended. Those in attendance expressed concerns about the proposed furlough days; parents wondered what the instructional impact would be for students as a result of fewer school days as well as expressing concern about the hardship it might place on working parents. Lower class sizes were said to be highly valued.

To further community involvement before the superintendent issues her final budget solutions and recommendations on March 20, a town hall budget forum will be held on Monday, March 11, at Del Mar Hills Academy from 6 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. (14085 Mango Drive, Del Mar, 92014).

“I’ve encouraged people to be informed, know what’s going on and have a voice,” said McClurg. “These are difficult times.”

Budget solutions such as class size reduction and furlough days are subject to Del Mar California Teachers Association negotiations, although there has been a verbal commitment from the association that there will be a savings of approximately $1 million.

The proposed five furlough days for certificated employees could amount to a savings of $682,500. Furloughs could be negotiated from one day up to five days. McClurg said whatever furloughs can be agreed upon for certificated teachers, it would have to be equal for classified employees.

Raising class sizes to 22:1 in kindergarten through third grade will result in a savings of $550,000. Board President Doug Rafner had some concern as small class sizes are a high priority for parents.

In neighboring Solana Beach School District, where there is no cap, the district has about 22 to 23 students in most classes. The Encinitas Union School District’s ratio is 24:1.

Other solutions subject to DMCTA negotiations that could be made are reducing upper grade conference days ($28,000 savings); restructuring the Extended Studies Curriculum 120 minutes planning time for all grade levels ($216,000); suspending the oversize class payment ($142,000); and shared assignment out of contact ($19,000).

Caitlin Williams, an Ashley Falls teacher who has been with the district for 15 years, proposed that the district look into staff development as a place where they can cut.

She said she feels professional development is “mostly ineffective,” that the district should not be paying for substitutes when they are offsite and that teacher collaboration is a much more valuable resource.

“We do not need an expert to tell us what we already know,” Williams said. “Put professional development on the backburner for now.”

McClurg also detailed some $1,084,900 worth of solutions that would not be subject to negotiations. Options included five furlough days for classified and management staff, saving $202,000; reducing special education aides by three positions ($69,000 saved); reducing substitute days for staff development ($25,000); continuing the hiring freeze on the assistant principal position ($110,700); and eliminating eight ELL instructional aide positions, saving $101,400.

One item on the list is to eliminate a teacher on the special assignment position, a savings of $72,000.

“This is a critical position in our district and it concerns me that this is on the list,” McClurg said of the position in the professional development program. “This is the heart and soul of what we do.”

The maintenance and operations department is also on the list to take a hit.

McClurg’s proposal includes the elimination of four utility worker positions to save $271,000 and the elimination of one maintenance worker at $74,000 in savings. The plan is to have a higher focus on cleaning the schools, which would cause a decrease in the need for trucks. The less need for trucks leads to the proposal to sell the trucks for a savings of $33,000.

Trustee Doug Perkins said the changes since January for budget solutions seem to reflect more significant cuts to maintenance and operations.

“I know we’ve already gone to maintenance and operations this year and last year to make reductions. I’m a little concerned that we’re getting down past the bone,” Perkins said, wondering if that means there will be any deferred maintenance.

McClurg said some things like re-striping lots, sealing and less urgent jobs could be postponed, but they would not miss any major maintenance issues.

A $61,000 proposed savings could be made by allocating library media specialist hours based on school sections/classes. This proposed cut found some opposition at Del Mar Hills Academy, where several parents came to the meeting to speak out in support of their librarian Tamara Radford.

“Our school library is at the center of our school campus and it really is the heart of our school,” said parent Joe Dunn, president of the Dad’s Club. “Her value extends well beyond her job responsibilities.”

He said Radford brings the various cultural backgrounds of school families together through diversity celebrations, works with student council, runs the photography club, manages the drama club, the robotics club and the speech and debate club.

He said her fundraising efforts are “legendary” and she always has new ideas to help the school. She goes above and beyond, Dunn said, staying late on a Friday night to decorate the library for kids so they are surprised when they come in on Monday.

“I believe that there’s only so many extra miles a person can put in,” Dunn said. “By reducing her hours, it places an important person in a position where we may lose her and lose her extraordinary contributions to this school,” Dunn said.

With the new Common Core’s stress on shifting student reading to non-fiction, Dunn said feels the district can’t afford to lose a library media specialist’s services.

Parent Juli Oh said that by making the library services cuts per capita penalizes the Hills for its small size. Oh said she understands the severe budget crisis the district is facing and appreciates the thoughtful approach it has taken to cuts, but she urged cuts this year that are temporary and easily reversible.

“The hours could come back but the person may not,” Oh said.

As Andrew Smith, a father and teacher from Del Mar Heights, said of drastic, permanent cuts: “It’s hard to rebuild a sandcastle once you’ve crushed it.”

Superintendent McClurg knows that some cuts hurt more than others and said she greatly values the part every person in the district plays.

“It’s difficult to come forward with any solution that talks about people,” McClurg said.

Perkins said he did not see the option of freezing “step and column raises” on the list and said it was an appealing option to him.

“We don’t know when it’s going to stop raining and we’ve dug into reserves for two years and about to for a third, “ Perkins said. “As much as we can save this year can help ourselves next year if it keeps raining. These are tough years for schools and it’s hard for everybody and I’m certainly open to suggestions….I believe that in hard times everybody gives and when it gets better, everybody gets.”