East San Jose school district OKs $23 million budget cut, staff layoffs

Citing a severe lack of funding, the East Side Union High School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously in a meeting last week to cut $23 million from its budget and eliminate 125 full-time equivalent positions across the district’s 16 schools.

The board also vowed to hire a third party auditor to study the numbers again in an effort to prevent some of the layoffs. The positions on the chopping block include parent and community involvement specialists, service technicians and custodians. Educators will not be cut.

“If we can find a way to not do layoffs this year I will grab it,” said District Board Member J. Manuel Herrera at Thursday’s meeting “I am committed to finding a way out of this folks because if you don’t, it is hard on everybody, including the board.”

The budget cuts and layoffs are prompted by a severe shortfall in revenue — about $12.5 million in the current fiscal year — which administrators say is prompted by a lack of state funding and increased costs for things like pension and health benefits.

Herrera’s remarks followed roughly an hour and a half of budget presentations from district administrators followed by another hour and a half of public comment. Students, teachers, parents and school employees filled the district’s board room while an overflow crowd watched a live stream of the meeting from a separate conference room and in the building’s lobby.

The audience — many of them students — pleaded with the board to stop the cuts which would eliminate 26 student advisers, 24.6 counselors and 11 custodians, among other classified and certificated positions.

“The budget layoffs will cost students critical resources that are key for preparation for college and their careers,” said Christina Vo, a junior at Silver Creek High School. “School is supposed to be a space where students come to learn, to grow, to develop. By unfairly taking away these assets you are yet again divesting in our futures.”

The budget cuts would be made in advance of the 2021-22 school year and the layoffs would be issued in June, officials said.

The board heard two presentations that evening — one by the East Side Teachers Association which argued that some of the district’s projected expenses are likely higher than necessary. It also notes that enrollment is up this year by more than 200 students.

In its response, the district argues that ESTA’s proposal would merely push back the need for greater cuts in the future — totaling $33 million in the 2021-22 academic year.

Under pressure to meet a March 15 deadline for beginning the layoff process, the five-member board unanimously approved the cuts, despite each member voicing a reluctance to do so.

“It’s so hard for me to sit here and make a decision to cut these positions,” said Board Member Van Le. “Can we all sit down (and decide) everyone sacrifices a little bit?”

Board Member Pattie Cortese said it’s not possible to avoid layoffs altogether, but supported poring over the numbers again to determine what else could be done to save money.

“Is there a place to squeeze any dollars out of there?” she said. “For example, substitute teachers. Can we get by with less?”

The board will meet again on March 5 to continue the discussion. Herrera says he hopes by then the board will have found a way to significantly reduce the layoffs or push them back to future years.

“There is a way around these cuts but they must be negotiated,” said District Superintendent Chris Funk in an email to San José Spotlight. “We have until June to find savings.”

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include the updated number of staff cuts approved by the board.

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