School district cuts millions from budget

Teachers, parents and students decry $3.5 million slash to operations budget

SAN MATEO — Now that $3.5 million in budget cuts has been rubber-stamped by the San Mateo Union High School District Board of Trustees, many are girding for the fallout fromthat decision.

The district board last week, acting on orders from the San Mateo County Office of Education, cut $3.5 million from its operational budget this year in order to have a $2 million reserve by June 2007. If they failed to comply, the county would have taken a larger role in fiscal oversight of the district.

An army of spirited and often angry teachers, students and parents chastised administrators on their perceived mishandling of funds and told the board that cutting personnel was a mistake. But the trustees eventually voted 3-2 to implement the cuts recommended by district officials.

An equivalent of 12 full-time teachers and 36 classified staff — such as office employees and janitorial workers — were among the hefty cuts.

Trustees Diane Vranes — a teacher herself in the San Bruno Park School District — and Linda Lees Dwyer voted against the cuts. Vranes said zero personnel cuts were worth having the county on the district’s case for a while. Dwyer, meanwhile, suggested giving teachers a pay cut and promising to restore their salaries once the budget recovers.

Though the cuts only affect operational costs, a handful of speakers noted that encouraging voters to pass November’s Measure M — a $298 million facilities improvement bond meant to finish the work already completed with a $137.5 million bond passed in 2000 — would be a hard sell.

“I certainly hope that (the cuts) don’t hurt the bond measure,” Vranes said. “If it did, it would be like a double-fault to the district. If people work against it and kill it off, they’ll be ruining the environment for everyone that’s left.”

Some, such as Hillsdale High School special education teacher Dawnette Tello, said seniority would be on their side if and when the axe fell in her corner of the district — but Tello noted that the school may have to bump newer employees.

“It could, unfortunately, get really, really ugly, Tello said.

Looking ahead, among the chief priorities for the board, administrators, parents and teachers, including Craig Childress, California Teachers Association district president, is making sure the district doesn’t find itself in this situation again.

Michael Loy, PTSA president at Aragon High School, said parent leaders in the schools are discussing forming a foundation that would exist specifically to raise money for the district. Loy said he still plans on voting for Measure M because of the long-term benefits it promises for future decades.

“I’ll vote for it because it’s for the school,” Loy said. “But I wish there was someone who could manage the money better.”

tramroop@examiner.com

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