West Contra Costa Board of Education Meeting of October 26

At a special meeting called to set budget priorities for the next several years, the West Contra Costa Board of Education voted to pay off the West Contra Costa Unified School District’s  longstanding debt to IBM, keep Shannon and Lake Elementary Schools open for the foreseeable future, and to set aside money  for class size reduction.  The board agreed that a vote on taking additional money from adult education could be set aside until the state “Mid-Year Triggers” are actually pulled, if they are pulled. The California State Director of Finance will have to decide whether to pull the trigger no later than December 15 this year.  The trigger will be pulled if a projected $4 billion in additional state revenues upon which the current state budget depends do not materialize.

Since the Board set aside a  $10 million special reserve in the 2011-2012 budget, they do not anticipate having to  make mid-year cuts this year. The purpose of the special meeting was to set priorities in case the state makes maximun cuts to education for 2012-13 and 2013-14, in order to decide where additional cuts would come from in that situation.  The priorities established at this meeting were also to be used to decide how to distribute both savings from paying off the state loan and  the remaining balance in the special reserve should the mid-year triggers NOT be pulled.

There was an anomaly in the way the materials for the meeting were made available on the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD)  website.  Usually, the agenda and packet for Board meetings can be accessed from the WCCUSD home page.  However, for the meeting of October 26, the link for the packet from the home page lead to a two-page document almost identical to the agenda.  However, buried on the Business Services page of the website, there was a 52 -page packet.  Page 3 of this packet read, in part, “The Board has elected to keep the Adult Education Program in place at a reduced level of funding. There is an additional estimated, $1 million in additional Tier III funding transfer available for the District’s general fund should the Board choose to downsize the Adult Education program in a “worse-case scenario.” 

There were about 100 people in the audience for this meeting, of whom about 70 were adult school supporters.  Many of the speakers during public comment were adult school supporters, including several children of adult school students,  asking that the adult school not be cut any further.  Other speakers spoke out for keeping Lake and Shannon Elementary Schools open and for maintaining class size reduction.  A spokesperson for the Kensington-Hilltop PTA pointed out that class size reduction and adult education are both important.

After some discussion, the Board voted to pay off the district’s longstanding debt to IBM, thus freeing the district of the burden of setting aside monies to pay off this loan every year.  The Board also voted to keep Lake and Shannon Elementary schools open, further noting that, while they don’t have the money to rebuild these schools, they hope to find the money to restore these buildings and keep them in good condition.  Finally, the board voted to set aside monies for class size reduction.  These monies, added to the Title I monies and parcel tax monies for class size reduction, would maintain class sizes at current levels.

Several Board members stated that they hoped not to have to touch adult school money in order to balance the budget over the next two years, and the Board agreed that they could revisit the issue if the triggers are, in fact, pulled.  The meeting was then adjourned.

This year there has been a lot of unlooked-for good news about WCCUSD’s finances.  It appears that the district will be able to pay off both the state loan and the IBM loan this year, thus relieving the district of a crushing debt burden that has weighed upon it for almost 20 years.  Payment of these loans should free up district finances and, hopefully, allow the district to meet its goals without needing to further reduce adult education.  Supporters of adult education have reason to feel hopeful, perhaps, but not  secure. Unlike class size reduction and keeping Lake and Shannon open, keeping the adult school open has not been adopted by the Board as a priority, and while adult education  in West County seems to have a lot of support both in the community and on the Board of Education, it still has no structural protection.

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