Photo: THERESA HARRINGTON/EdSource
Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy, president of the United Teachers of Richmond union, left, is flanked by other union representatives as he speaks to the West Contra Costa school board about budget cuts on Dec. 11, 2019.

Laying off 250 teachers and increasing class sizes are among the potentially unavoidable budget-cutting options facing West Contra Costa Unified in the San Francisco Bay Area.

To come up with cuts totaling $32 million for 2020-21, “layoffs may be an unavoidable part of the solution,” said Superintendent Matthew Duffy in a recent budget update, adding that cuts to central office administrators “sadly will be severe.”

In a message to the community that includes Richmond and surrounding areas, Duffy wrote: “All of the reductions that will be made are painful and will in some way change the way this district provides services. As we tackle this problem and search for solutions, I want you to know that we are keenly aware of the potential impact these decisions will have on the programs and services the district provides to students and families.”

The district and teachers’ union met Wednesday to negotiate the teacher cuts, as well as alternative cost-cutting options, which are expected to save $16 million.

“They have indicated that if we don’t come to some sort of agreement, they will be laying off 250 members and that doesn’t include other (non-teaching) staff,” said Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy, president of the United Teachers of Richmond union. “So, we believe they could actually layoff about 400 employees.”

In addition to the teacher layoffs, the district proposes other cuts: $6 million in contracts, $2 million in school site funds, $2 million by eliminating the positions of 10 high-level administrators, and negotiating the remaining $6 million with its three other unions that represent non-teaching workers such as instructional assistants, as well as supervisors and administrators.

The district needs to make the cuts to balance its budget in the wake of ballooning deficits that the district has been grappling with since June.

“It is important for the community to know that the central office will sacrifice enormously in order to help balance our budget,” Duffy said, explaining that these reductions are being made “to keep cuts away from the classrooms.”

However, classrooms are also expected to be deeply affected, said Gonzalez-Hoy. He and officials from the district’s other unions are trying to hammer out one-year agreements with the district for cuts, in the hopes that they could be reinstated the following year.

Expressing shock and dismay, teachers’ union leaders said they did not agree with anything the district laid out in its initial proposal, which included the elimination of stipends for teachers who attend special education and other extra meetings, and a school wide class-size average of 28, with an average of 34 in grades 7-8, 39 in secondary core classes and 55 in physical education and some performing arts courses. The district also proposed increasing counselor loads to 700 students to eliminate about 16 counselor positions and eliminating stipends for special credentials and degrees, as well as for leading departments or training.

“The class sizes they were proposing were egregious,” Gonzalez-Hoy said. “We haven’t had them that high in over 16 years.”

To emphasize the union’s priorities and concerns, its site rep council — which includes representatives from each of the district’s 55 schools — adopted a resolution that blamed the budget problem on “gross fiscal mismanagement” of funds that it predicted would disproportionately affect students of color, English learners and special education students and teachers, “consequently intensifying structural racism on historically targeted communities and exacerbating social justice, the opportunity gap and racial wealth gap.”

Tony Wold, the district’s associate superintendent for business services, said he is optimistic that the district will be able to come up with cuts collaboratively with the unions. He also said no special education services will be cut.

“These cuts will hurt,” he said. “But we need to make them. We need to move forward.”

Besides the teachers’ union, Wold is trying to negotiate cuts of $2 million with the Teamsters Union that represents non-teaching positions such as instructional assistants, $1.25 million with the School Supervisors Association that represents managers who do not oversee teachers, and $3.25 million with the West Contra Costa Administrators Association that represents principals and other administrators who oversee educational programs.

The board expects to vote on the first $8 million in cuts Feb. 12 and to finalize cuts by Feb. 26 or March 11, before it issues preliminary layoff notices to teachers and certificated management by March 15. In an effort to reduce the number of layoffs, the district is offering a $2,000 bonus to all permanent certificated union employees and $1,500 to all non-teaching union employees who notify it by Feb. 14 if they intend to resign or retire at the end of the school year.

If the unions do not come to agreement before March 15, Wold said the district will need to send preliminary layoff notices to all teachers who may lose their jobs, but added that those would not be finalized until May. He said layoff notices for non-teaching staff members must be approved by April 11.

Both Wold and Gonzalez-Hoy said they are hoping that voters will approve a ballot measure proposed in November that would provide more funding to schools statewide, which could ease the district’s budget concerns for 2021-22, when it anticipates it will need to cut another $16 million. Wold pointed out that other districts such as Oakland Unified and San Diego Unified are also having to make cuts, but Gonzalez-Hoy said West Contra Costa’s fiscal problems are in part due to overspending and lax fiscal controls over the past few years.

Wold, who was hired in August, agreed that the district has made budgeting mistakes in the past. Now, he said the district is cutting as much as possible by figuring out the base level of staffing that it needs at every school, then it hopes to “rebuild” based on district priorities, which include focusing special attention on high-needs students such as those who are low-income, English learners, foster youth and African American.

“Not everyone’s going to get everything they want,” he said, referring to union negotiations, as well as community feedback. “But everyone’s invested in solutions.”

Editor’s Note: As a special project, EdSource is tracking developments this year in the Oakland Unified and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts as a way to illustrate some of the most urgent challenges facing many urban districts in California. West Contra Costa Unified includes Richmond, El Cerrito and several other East Bay communities.

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  1. Luis 2 months ago2 months ago

    This district has been bad for a long, long long time! I have had generations of families in Richmond, and most had to seek fake addresses to get out. Now that they have choice, the union is making all this noise when it is there horrible teachers and lazy principals all mismanaged by terrible district leaders, but this goes beyond just schools. The board members are inept Democrat flunkies. The teachers union needs to … Read More

    This district has been bad for a long, long long time! I have had generations of families in Richmond, and most had to seek fake addresses to get out. Now that they have choice, the union is making all this noise when it is there horrible teachers and lazy principals all mismanaged by terrible district leaders, but this goes beyond just schools. The board members are inept Democrat flunkies. The teachers union needs to be dismantled or else kids will be continually destroyed.

    They are using the orange guy in the white house as there chance to strike, but when the jedi strikes back, it may potentially change unions stranglehold on Democrats for once.

  2. Gayle Greene 2 months ago2 months ago

    The SF Bay Area is one of the wealthiest areas in the country. What does this say about the priorities of our society??

    Replies

    • Todd Maddison 2 months ago2 months ago

      As I outlined in my comment here, it seems to say more about the priorities of spending in West Contra Costa Unified than those of society in general. There are plenty of districts in CA who are able to stay solvent and provide their kids with excellent educations, even while paying their teachers significantly more. And they're all doing it on essentially the same funding (plus or minus the add-ons for groups needing more … Read More

      As I outlined in my comment here, it seems to say more about the priorities of spending in West Contra Costa Unified than those of society in general.

      There are plenty of districts in CA who are able to stay solvent and provide their kids with excellent educations, even while paying their teachers significantly more. And they’re all doing it on essentially the same funding (plus or minus the add-ons for groups needing more help…)

      Given there are 1033 public school districts in CA and about 1000 of them are not in extreme levels of financial distress as WCCUSD is, that would indicate that the problem is neither society nor the level of funding provided by the state, but more the nature of how WCCUSD is choosing to spend that money locally.

    • Sean White 2 months ago2 months ago

      Thats what happens when we prioritize our brightest people towards selling ads online. The world’s best engineers are working on largely needless phone apps that only fuel our consumerism.

    • Jennifer Bestor 2 months ago2 months ago

      The California Legislature, not the "wealthy" SF Bay Area, is at fault. This year, $900 million of Bay Area education-allocated property tax is legislatively redistributed as "excess" to school needs. Under Rev & Tax Code Section 97.2 (d)(4)(A), it is redistributed to other local governments. Why ever? Because it not required by a school funding formula that ignores the impact of high regional costs. Redistribution of a burgeoning amount of existing … Read More

      The California Legislature, not the “wealthy” SF Bay Area, is at fault. This year, $900 million of Bay Area education-allocated property tax is legislatively redistributed as “excess” to school needs. Under Rev & Tax Code Section 97.2 (d)(4)(A), it is redistributed to other local governments. Why ever?
      Because it not required by a school funding formula that ignores the impact of high regional costs.
      Redistribution of a burgeoning amount of existing property tax away from local schools does not reflect the wishes or interests of Bay Area residents. Contra Costa and Alameda Counties don’t yet generate this “excess” property tax — however, they each contribute over $1 billion of personal income tax to the state above and beyond their usage of state services. Just 15% of that would cover a 9.4% regional cost supplement to equitably fund every one of their districts. (The Bay Area in toto contributes a stunning $17.3 billion — 85% of the state’s overall funding of statewide higher and non-Bay Area K-12 education.)

  3. Todd Maddison 2 months ago2 months ago

    Given this is one of your focus districts, it would be interesting to see EdSource do - or find someone who has done - an analysis of their budget vs. other similarly sized and socioeconomic districts. Where are the outlier expenses? Something has got to be different about the way West Contra Costa is managing its spending than other similar districts. Since 2012 (when we passed Prop 30 to better fund schools), WCC's "expense per ADA" has … Read More

    Given this is one of your focus districts, it would be interesting to see EdSource do – or find someone who has done – an analysis of their budget vs. other similarly sized and socioeconomic districts.

    Where are the outlier expenses? Something has got to be different about the way West Contra Costa is managing its spending than other similar districts.

    Since 2012 (when we passed Prop 30 to better fund schools), WCC’s “expense per ADA” has gone from $8,764/ADA to $12,827/ADA – an increase of 46% or 6.55% per year – over four times faster than inflation.

    That’s not unusual; we see that in many districts – almost all.

    Meanwhile, unlike many districts we’ve looked at, it doesn’t appear they’re putting their money into raises for themselves; their average and median pay rates are actually reasonable, perhaps even low for the Bay Area.

    That means the money must be going somewhere else, into something that other districts that are paying more to employees and raising their pay faster but yet still staying solvent are not spending.

    What is it?

    One would think FCMAT would have such analysis done, and from there identified some best practices and a template for “good money management”.

    For example, one could easily benchmark ratios like ratios of enrollment size to admin staffing, to facility maintenance costs, to support staffing, etc…

    Somewhere in there is an outlier, and if I were their superintendent, that’s what I’d be looking at – and I’d be making that public knowledge so people would know even though cuts are being made, they’re being made in areas that other districts have proven do not negatively affect education.

  4. Jennifer Bestor 2 months ago2 months ago

    Neither of the split-roll measures headed for the 2020 ballot would generate new revenue until 2022-23 – and then the new monies would phase in over three years. Based on the LAO's estimate of 40% to education, this is about $7 million to WCCUSD in 2022-23, $14 million in 2023-24, and finally $21 million going forward from 2024-25. In the longer term, since WCCUSD suffers about a $28M annual regional cost deficit compared … Read More

    Neither of the split-roll measures headed for the 2020 ballot would generate new revenue until 2022-23 – and then the new monies would phase in over three years. Based on the LAO’s estimate of 40% to education, this is about $7 million to WCCUSD in 2022-23, $14 million in 2023-24, and finally $21 million going forward from 2024-25.

    In the longer term, since WCCUSD suffers about a $28M annual regional cost deficit compared with the state average, even the full 2024-25 split-roll distribution wouldn’t allow them to give their students a comparable education or their staff an equivalent pay package to the 48 average and low-cost counties.

    And, without a regional cost supplement in LCFF, Contra Costa will be a net donor county from the split-roll proceeds – sending property tax out of the county for the first time ever, to the tune of $19 million plus.

    If this is what the local unions, legislators, state superintendent of schools and parents think is fair, so be it. WCCUSD needs to just make the cuts and get on with chronically cutting corners to squeeze $1 out of every 91¢ it’s allowed.