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East Palo Alto school libraries saved

But classes will be bigger, school year shorter, as Ravenswood passes budget

School libraries will be open and computers running in East Palo Alto schools this fall after the Ravenswood City School District narrowly averted layoffs of its entire library and technology staffs.

But the school year will be shorter, classes larger and two of eight campuses will close as the district, serving 3,600 K-8 children in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park, shaved $3.2 million from its approximately $39 million 2011-12 budget.

Ravenswood trustees unanimously approved the budget Thursday night.

After initially recommending layoffs of district library and technology staff members, Superintendent Maria De La Vega said she was able to preserve all seven positions by cobbling together foundation and grant funding.

But 26 teaching positions will be lost -- through attrition -- because of the increased class sizes, officials said.

K-3 class sizes will rise from 20 to 25, and fourth- through eighth-grade class sizes will increase from 29 to 31.

Ravenswood trustees particularly struggled with recommended layoffs in the district's maintenance staff.

Board members balked at the recommended layoff of a locksmith and a laborer, saying the people who currently hold the jobs are skilled individuals whose work, if outsourced, could end up costing the district more than it pays them as staff members.

"We've lived here long enough to put faces to these job descriptions, and that makes it more difficult to execute a decision that says 'this person is going to lose their job,'" trustee Saree Mading said.

"But there are 147 school district's in California at risk of becoming insolvent because they can't make these decisions. We can't be here for the students if we can't make these tough decisions."

The board ultimately avoided a vote on the layoffs, asking De La Vega instead to work with local representatives of the California School Employees Association to make reductions in the maintenance department.

Trustees expressed frustration that staff members did not provide enough data to allow them to understand the tradeoffs involved in the various layoff choices.

Director of Human Resources James Lovelace said that under union rules, only after a layoff vote could he negotiate with the bargaining unit to determine how certain functions would be replaced.

"This is not a proper policy to operate under," Mading said.

Mading and board President Sharifa Wilson said they would prefer to have a series of layoff options, with backup plans, to better weigh the tradeoffs.

"I don't want to make the unions the bad guy, but if they don't want to cooperate with us -- this is a matter of giving them a process for how to make it work," Mading said.

"If we don't know what the (options and consequences) are before we vote, we have to make a decision that doesn't make sense to us."

Nearly half of Ravenswood's $39 million budget comes from restricted federal and state grants targeted specifically to address things like poverty, special education, school improvement, migrant education and English-language learners.



About 80 percent of Ravenswood students are considered low-income under government guidelines, 61 percent are English language learners and 30 percent each year are new enrollees, according to the Ravenswood Education Foundation.

The larger classes will save the district more than $1 million and reduce total classrooms in the district by 21 to 24, Ravenswood's Chief Business Officer Megan Curtis said.

Five furlough days -- reducing the school year from 185 to 180 days -- will save $287,000, Curtis said.



By closing two schools, Curtis said the district will save $320,000 in principal and office manager salaries and an additional $100,000 in operation and utilities savings.

Though Ravenswood is a low-performing district, test scores have inched up in recent years. In May voters narrowly gave two-thirds approval to renew and increase a school parcel tax, which will cost property owners $196 per parcel per year.

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