After public outcry, West Contra Costa Unified’s school board rejected proposals to layoff or reduce hours for dozens of playground supervisors, instructional assistants, food service workers and other school staff Wednesday.
The board did, however, approve a different proposal which reduces hours for school counselors and cuts a handful of mostly part-time positions for instructional coaches and other specialists. By moving staff around to positions that are currently vacant, none of those employees will be laid off.
The proposals at Wednesday’s school board meeting were only the latest challenge in West Contra Costa Unified’s ongoing struggle to maintain a balanced budget while offering staff pay that keeps up with the Bay Area’s high cost of living. The district submitted a longer-term financial plan earlier this month to the Contra Costa County Office of Education that anticipates having to cut nearly $20 million from its budget for the 2024-25 school year in order to afford the raises negotiated with the United Teachers of Richmond teachers union for this year and next.
“We have made a commitment to the county, and my biggest priority is that we retain our local decision-making in our finances, which means we’re going to have to make some difficult decisions in the next couple of years on our budget,” board President Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy said at the meeting.
Members of Teamsters 856, the union representing those workers whose positions were at risk of being cut, hailed the board for voting down a proposal to cut funding for 34 part-time elementary playground supervisor positions, and another that called for reducing hours or cutting 72 positions. Teamsters said that if the district must make cuts, it should strive to do so in a way that has the least impact on schools.
“(The board) did the right thing, our schools need more adults on campuses, not less,” said Veronica Diaz, the West Contra Costa Unified representative for Teamsters 856. “That being said, we as labor leaders need to commit to roll up our sleeves and do the work with them to make sure they are financially stable.”
The district’s freedom to make financial decisions could be in jeopardy after Wednesday’s vote, however. That’s because West Contra Costa received a letter from the Contra Costa County Office of Education – which is tasked with overseeing the district’s finances — warning that if the proposals didn’t pass, the county expects to downgrade the district’s budget certification, Gonzalez-Hoy said. Depending on how the county moves forward, it could use its power to override some of the district’s financial decisions.
Board member Mister Phillips reiterated at the meeting that while he supported the district giving its labor unions a raise, he felt the amount that was offered — 7% this year and 7.5% this year – was too high since it was more than the district’s cost-of-living-adjustment increase in state funding.
“I know people need it and want it, but it’s not sustainable, and the end result is these layoff notices,” Phillips said in his comments on the proposal to eliminate elementary playground supervisors.
Board member Jamela Smith-Folds said the district is “in a rock and a hard place position,” but urged against “cutting from the bottom” — meaning reducing hours or cutting some of the lowest paid positions in the district.
“We need to look at what got us into this place, what happened to put us in a position now to where we’re looking at cutting people from the bottom to the top, instead of from the top to the bottom,” Smith-Folds said. “… We want to make sure that in this district we value people, and we keep ourselves fiscally responsible.”
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