VISTA — The Vista Unified School District, or VUSD, board of trustees mulled a series of painful cost-saving proposals designed to bridge a $6.11 million budget gap at a special meeting June 10 at Temple Heights Elementary School.
This crisis is a direct result of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest state budget revisions which will cause a nearly $10 million shortfall for fiscal year 2009-2010. One time Federal Stimulus funds will mitigate some of the deficit this year, but not in the next year.
Donna Caperton, VUSD chief business officer, presented 33 proposals, most boiling down to two categories: pay cuts and staff cuts. Eliminating busing, removing class size caps and shortening the length of the school year were among the proposals. On the block were teachers, librarians, counselors, custodians, secretaries and nurses.
Before the board began discussion, a long succession of impassioned educators and community members protested the cuts, particularly in staffing. The possibility of increased student-to-teacher ratios met stiff opposition.
“With that many kids, it is more like crowd control than teaching,” Breeze Hill Elementary teacher Nicolette Rail said.
“It’s very important for the students that they get the attention they need in the early grades so that in the later grades they’re actually able to read and do the math they need to do,” Beaumont Elementary teacher Valerie Holseth said.
Several speakers suggested the district dip into the school’s $17 million reserve fund in the hopes that the economy will correct itself within a few years.
“You need to come up with a budget that buys time,” Budget Advisory Committee member Randy Wiens urged. “Hopefully, we’re going to avoid any Draconian decisions you make now that you may wish you had not made.” Trustee Steve Lilly dismissed such proposals as “Band-Aids” and said they would be catastrophic if the economy fails to recover in time.
A number of speakers said they would be willing to tighten their belts to get through the crisis. School union spokesman Bill Faust said he and the 1,000 employees he represents would come to the table to negotiate salaries. Vista Academy kindergarten teacher Ellen Perkins said she would take a pay cut if it meant keeping class sizes down.
“I didn’t go into teaching to become rich, and I haven’t been disappointed,” Perkins joked.
Trustees Steve Lilly, Elizabeth Jaka and Jim Gibson all said that they favored renegotiated salaries and shortened school years to cutting any staff.
“To me, that would be a much more responsible option and essentially honors the principle that we are eliminating costs to the maximum extent possible without eliminating positions,” Lilly said to loud applause.
The trustees felt that they could not approve or reject any of the budget proposals until they had a clear agenda item authorizing them to do so. They postponed any final decisions until the regular meeting June 18.
They did approve, 4-1, a $500,000 expenditure to open Mission Vista High School this fall rather than delaying the opening to next year to save money. Gibson strongly opposed the move.
“I’m 100 percent behind magnet schools … but we have obligations to the individuals we’ve employed,” Gibson said. “This is the wrong time to be investing additional funds into an early opening.”
The next board of trustees meeting will take place at 5 p.m. June 18 at Temple Heights Elementary School at 1550 Temple Heights Drive in Oceanside.