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School Board balances budget with cuts

By Ben Lumpkin Daily Planet staff
Friday May 04, 2001

After months of discussion and hand-wringing, the Board of Education cut more than $4 million from the district’s 2001-2002 budget Wednesday. 

They also approved plans that could boost district revenues by $1.7 million. Taken together, the cuts and increased revenues would eliminate an estimated budget shortfall of $5.2 million and still leave the district a surplus of nearly $1 million to cover unanticipated expenses in the coming year. 

The vote came after more than an hour of discussion on proposed budget cuts. Board members voiced serious concerns about many of the cuts they ultimately approved. 

“I find all of the cuts distasteful,” said Board of Education Vice President Shirley Issel minutes before the vote to approve the cuts. “It’s a very troubling budget.” 

“If you go down the list, every one of the cuts has implications,” said board Director Joaquin Rivera, in an interview Thursday.  

“The easy cuts were back in the ’80s,” Rivera added. “Every cut is very painful right now.” 

Among the more controversial cuts Wednesday were: the  

elimination of one School Safety Officer at both Longfellow and Willard middle schools, for savings of $80,500; the elimination of the on-campus suspension manager at Berkeley High School, for savings of $55,000; and a reduction in Berkeley High School’s teacher staff by the equivalent of 3.6 full-time teachers, for savings of more than $200,000. 

Directors Joaquin Rivera and Ted Schultz expressed particular concern about the decision to cut BHS teaching staff, saying the move could increase class sizes at the school for years to come. 

“The fewer kids in the classroom, I think, the better the academics are going to be,” Schultz said. “I think we really need to hold the line here.” 

Furthermore, said Schultz, if district staff could come up with millions of dollars of cuts in just a few months, then they ought to be able to come up with the few hundred thousand more needed to avoid cutting teaching staff at all. 

“It bothers me to put all the burden on the high school,” Schultz said. “We did that last year (and) got lots of calls about cut classes.” 

“I strongly urge people to step back,” Schultz said. “I really think we can come up with the money.” 

On Schultz’ recommendation, the board voted 3-2 to have the staff come back to them in two weeks with suggestions for other items in the budget that might be cut to keep teaching staff and class sizes unchanged. 

But board members Shirley Issel and John Selawsky opposed the move. They emphasized that district staff has already put a lot of time and effort into coming up with the current budget scenario, and said the time had come to move forward. 

“At this point, I think we have to give people clear direction and not muddy the waters by telling them two different things,” Selawsky said, referring to the fact that high school staff have been waiting for the board decision in order to decide next year’s staffing levels and to begin planning the school’s complicated master schedule. 

Besides, said Selawsky, it is still unclear whether much of the savings expected under the budget scenario approved Wednesday will actually materialize. He cited energy conservation savings as an example. The scenario calls for saving $180,000 by reducing energy use throughout the district by 10 percent, but if energy rates were to soar next year – a distinct possibility – the savings could be erased in months, Selawsky said. 

“We’ve got a lot of uncertainties we’re still dealing with,” Selawsky said Thursday.