Budget crisis under control, but classes are bigger

September 22, 2010 — by Emily Williams

Facing a $1.6 million deficit last year, the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District worked tirelessly to come up with a solution to the budget problem that would minimize effects on the students. Their efforts paid off this year, as no major programs were cut, but sizes for many classes have been increased, according to superintendent Cary Matsuoka.

“This year we really minimized the impact for the students and classes,” said Matsuoka. “All programs are continuing, so we’re able to fund everything. I doubt that kids are going to see much of a change.”

The changes that have taken effect this year because of the budget problem may not be easily noticeable, but they are nonetheless present.

In particular, the budget for the 20-to-1 program that kept English 9 class sizes smaller was cut. After much discussion and heated debate, the district decided to let the size of English 9 classes increase in order to keep other already larger classes from becoming too big.

Now English 9 classes average 24-25 students versus the 20 in past years, but still in contrast to most other classes that average 30 students. According to Matsuoka the average class size went up by just 1/2 a student per classroom across the district.

Of all the departments, English was hit the hardest, with seven sections cut from the curriculum and an increase in class sizes. But despite the challenging circumstances, department chair Jason Friend said English teachers are doing their best.

“I know that English teachers are incredibly committed, so I know that they are going to work their hardest to make sure they reach every single student,” said Friend. “[The big classes] could potentially hurt students in the future. You just hope that we do our very best to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

In addition to having slightly bigger classes on average, all teachers received a “step freeze,” meaning that they will stay at the same spot on the same salary schedule, and all administrators and other school employees (such as janitors and secretaries) took a 3 percent pay cut.

The district’s total budget is $35 million, with teachers’ salaries and benefits being the largest expense for the district. Because of this large expense, a few new teachers were pink slipped at the end of last year, but all who were pink slipped because of the budget were hired back.

“[Teachers] weren’t happy with [cuts] but they understood the financial reality,” said Matsuoka. “They’ve been understanding and cooperative and we were able to hire back teachers that we initially laid off because of the budget.”

Although the budget is balanced for this year, the projected deficit for next year is $1.3 million.

“We have some major challenges for next school year,” said Matsuoka. “That’s a big hole that we need to solve.”

So far no major decisions have been made to solve this problem, but the school board and the community are strongly considering trying to pass a parcel tax that would provide the high schools with much needed funds. It could be on the ballot as early as this spring.

“With the efforts of the community and the campaign, I think [the parcel tax] has got a really strong possibility of passing,” said Matsuoka.

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