Peering into a future of hard times, trustees of East Palo Alto's Ravenswood City School District Thursday voted to slash the staff that provides computer services to children and teachers, among other positions.
Trustees balked at laying off the district's entire library staff -- but were warned that if they do not do so within weeks, they'll be forced to make other, equally unpalatable choices.
They also voted to eliminate the parent coordinator at the district's Child Development Center, a custodian and an office manager.
The district, which serves children in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park, is planning for a $3.2 million – or 17 percent – cut to its $18 million unrestricted operating budget for 2011-12.
Class sizes this fall will rise to 25 in K-3 and to 31 in grades 4-8, officials said. Twenty-one teaching positions and two management posts will be eliminated by attrition, according to James Lovelace, director of human resources.
Officials also have said they'll have to close a school – their preferred term is "consolidate."
The necessary cuts will get worse mid-year -- to the tune of $350 per student -- if California voters do not approve a five-year extension of sales and income tax and vehicle license fees sought by Gov. Jerry Brown, Board Chairwoman Sharifa Wilson said.
With her recommendation to eliminate the district's entire library staff of 3.5 full time-equivalent positions, Superintendent Maria de la Vega said she hopes to recruit volunteers to keep the libraries open.
That plan was sharply criticized by current library volunteers –- several from outside of the district –- who said a professional staff is critical to maintaining the school libraries. The current staff of 3.5 is spread among seven campuses.
"Volunteers cannot run a library –- there's way too much that goes into that," said parent Dena Bloomquist, a weekly library volunteer in the Flood School library, where two of her three children attend.
Bloomquist said when she told her three sons of the plan to eliminate the library positions one of them asked, "Do they want us to read less?"
Angelica Santana, a librarian who divides her time between Willow Oaks and Cesar Chavez schools, said, "For our particular student population, closing our school libraries would mean greatly reducing our students' access to books."
Many, she said, "do not have the financial means to purchase books at local bookstores nor can they easily arrange for transportation to public libraries."
The technology cuts will "devastate the progress" Ravenswood has made in bridging the digital divide, said Susan Allen, a Palo Alto resident and former technology volunteer at Ravenswood who is now on staff.
"Our students have so much less than students in other districts around us, where they go to high school."
Allen said she moved from volunteer to staff status because, for legal reasons, only staff is permitted to have keys to equipment and network passwords.
"When a teacher says, 'I've got a virus,' or 'I can't put my grades in,' a volunteer can't fix that," Allen said.
But the layoffs of 3.5 full-time-equivalent technology positions will most hurt Ravenswood students who go on to high schools such as Menlo Atherton and Woodside, where other kids are more tech savvy, she said.
"Please reconsider this for the sake of the students," Allen told the board.
De la Vega said after four years of cuts to the district, 'it's difficult to know where to go."
"We have one more board meeting before we have to finalize our budget," she told trustees.
"We'll bring additional cuts in case these (library cuts) are not approved, but it has to be a yes or no. It's been very difficult on all the staff here because we've had cuts for the last four years, and people have taken on two jobs or three jobs."
Trustees, faced with making cuts for the fourth year in a row, tried to explain what they're up against.
"We're obligated by law to make sure we have a balanced budget, so we can't stick our heads in the sand and pretend like the money's magically going to come from some place," Wilson said.
In addition to its $18 million unrestricted operating budget, Ravenswood receives about $22 million in highly targeted federal and state "categorical funds" to address specific conditions, including poverty and the more than 60 percent of students who are English language learners.
But Lovelace said the district also anticipates a 10 percent to 15 percent cut in categorical funds.
About 80 percent of Ravenswood students are considered low-income under government guidelines, and 30 percent each year are new enrollees, according to the Ravenswood Education Foundation.
Test scores in the district have inched up in recent years, and voters in May narrowly gave two-thirds approval to renew and increase a parcel tax, which will cost property owners $196 per parcel per year.