Credit: Ali Tadayon/Edsource
West Contra Costa Unified is preparing to have to cut nearly $20 million from its budget for the 2024-25 school year in order to pay for raises for teachers and other school employees.

As contract negotiations come to a head between West Contra Costa Unified and its teachers union, the United Teachers of Richmond, the Contra Costa County Office of Education issued a stark warning letter to the district Tuesday that without budget cuts and adjustments, it won’t be able to afford its current spending plan.

That spending plan includes the raises for teachers and school staff that the district currently plans to propose in order to settle the negotiations, expected to cost $27 million annually.

The letter comes in the form of a “going concern determination,” changing West Contra Costa Unified’s budget certification from “positive” to “qualified” — meaning the district is at risk of insolvency and may not be able to meet its financial obligations for the current fiscal year or the two after that. The determination also requires the district’s school board to approve a “detailed budget revision” prior to committing to the salary settlement.

If County Superintendent Lynn Mackey doesn’t believe the district’s revision plan is sufficient, she has the power to rescind it and consult with the district and school board to impose a different one, according to the letter.

West Contra Costa Unified doesn’t disagree the county’s assessment; spokeswoman Elizabeth Sanders said the district does not plan to appeal the determination. Still, the district considers “significant” educators raises to be crucial.

“We are stretching thin in order to provide necessary, significant increases to educator salaries that have fallen far behind competitive regional rates, while also working to honor the community input into our budget priorities that the district has received,” Sanders said.

The letter cited several reasons in addition to the settlement proposal for the determination, including the school board’s March 9 decision to reject a district proposal for layoffs and vacant positions eliminations and the district’s continued use of reserve funds. Not accounting for the proposed salary settlement, the district projected a $26.9 million deficit for 2022-23, 2023-24 and 2024-25.

The letter also pointed out the district’s “history of declining enrollment while not reducing staffing to match the decline.”

The determination comes about a month before United Teachers of Richmond can legally strike, weeks after a fact-finding hearing scheduled for Feb. 16. That makes for a challenging timeline for the district to develop a budget revision plan and get it approved by both the County Superintendent and the school board before a possible strike.

United Teachers of Richmond President John Zabala said the union has been and will continue to “advocate for a responsible budget,” but the determination will not change its demand for raises. Zabala said the union’s demands for competitive wages are essential for educators to remain working and living in the Bay Area.

“Since we started, we have told the district they need to reprioritize their budget to focus on the classroom and to prevent more losses of students and educators,” Zabala said. “… It’s time for district management to stop spending on central office positions and contracted services and reprioritize students and educators.”

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  1. Todd Maddison 2 months ago2 months ago

    Great article. Nice to see a County Office requiring a district in financial difficulty to actually produce a detailed plan – by which I assume they mean actual specifics on what they’re going to cut – before giving themselves raises.

    Will be interesting to see how the parents of WCCSD feel about cutting from the kids to increase the bank accounts of adults …


    • Marco 1 month ago1 month ago

      Putting interests of adults ahead of those of kids is the story of WCCUSD for years and years. How do parents feel about it? You can see the enrollment numbers; falling and falling and falling. My family contributed. The district response to Covid was the last straw. My kids are now educated outside of WCCUSD and are thriving.

  2. jim 2 months ago2 months ago

    I suspect there is a negative correlation between central office spending and student performance. What I have noticed is that the central office people take a lot of attention from school site people for projects of dubious usefulness. Central office people like projects that raise their own professional status while not providing benefit for students or teachers.

    Spending time on internal projects diverts attention from students and teachers. Does anyone have this data?