There could be relief ahead for two high school volunteer coordinators and five clerical staff at Gunn High School who recently received layoff notices due to budget cuts.
On Tuesday night, school board members directed Superintendent Max McGee to find other areas in the budget for savings to restore the volunteer coordinator roles given their low cost — $11,000 for each school's position.
While the fate of the Gunn clerical staff still hangs in the balance, a one-time $1.7 million grant from the governor's office that could be approved before the end of the month may be used to restore the roles, staff said on Tuesday night. McGee committed to using those funds, if approved by the governor, to fund the five full- and part-time positions at Gunn. (Chief Budget Officer Cathy Mak told the Weekly on Wednesday that the district has applied for and received these discretionary funds for the past two years and typically used it to fund Common Core State Standards implementation and textbook adoptions.)
Gunn staff have turned out to the last two board meetings to protest the layoffs, describing the five positions — typist clerk, computer lab assistant, academic technology specialist, account clerk and attendance/secretary — as essential to the school's operations and to students' educational experiences. Cutting these five positions amounts to about $250,000 in savings, according to the district. Staff and parents have also urged the board against cutting the volunteer coordinators, who they said play a key role in managing high numbers of volunteers at the high schools.
On Tuesday, Gunn staff proposed the board use reserve fund dollars, that have been allocated but not yet spent, to class size reduction to keep the positions for the next school year, arguing the investment would have a more meaningful impact on the student experience. While McGee voiced support for this suggestion, board members did not.
Board members said they were concerned about the potential impact of cutting the positions but reiterated that any decisions should be made at the site level rather than from the dais.
"It's in the staff's court and superintendent's court to say whether this is, across the district, the most reasonable place to make a cut," Board Vice President Ken Dauber said. "If the answer to that is 'yes,' we are where we are; if the answer to that is 'no,' we will be in a better place."
Board member Jennifer DiBrienza worried that despite the worthiness of supporting the high school positions, all schools have struggled with this year's budget cuts, but not all have come out in force to board meetings to make their case for a particular investment.
"I would love us to look at whether or not we can think creatively to backfill some of these temporarily," she said. "If we're doing that, I don't want it to stop at Gunn."
Board President Terry Godfrey also cautioned that the budget shortfall is "not a short-term problem" so any approach should take a longer-term view at how to fund the positions or reassign their responsibilities in the coming years. Assuming the district gave no raises to teachers and staff next year, the district is still projecting a deficit of about $800,000, she said.
"Trying to figure out how to fit things in for one year — we can do that if we're trying to bridge to something else but it's not like things look rosier for next year," Godfrey said.
The board ultimately approved the 2017-18 budget in a 5-0 vote.
On Tuesday, the board also unanimously renewed contracts with and thus gave satisfactory performance evaluations to all of its law firms except one — Lozano Smith — and supported a staff recommendation to issue a request for proposal (RFP) for the services that firm has provided the district. They postponed evaluating Lozano Smith until the RFP process is completed.
The board also unanimously authorized staff to take the next step forward on a major remodel of Addison Elementary School — to submit a design to the Division of the State Architect for approval. The remodel is being funded by an anonymous private donor.
The Addison project also recently took on a new feature: a proposal to build an inclusive Magical Bridge playground at the campus. On Tuesday, the board supported a staff recommendation to apply for a $300,000 grant from Santa Clara County to fund the playground, with a commitment that the district will match the grant.
The board also voted to commit to providing inclusive playgrounds at all elementary schools as the district develops its next facilities master plan and a future schools bond program.