Illustration by Megan Laird.
Illustration by Megan Laird.

Protests over the budget cuts and fee hikes at UC Santa Cruz are not the only educational issue causing a stir in the community. The Santa Cruz City School District is also facing difficult decisions due to California’s current financial woes. As a result, the Santa Cruz Teachers Union and Board of Education are trying to find ways to continue giving students a quality education while saving money.

One important tactic that has been employed is a retirement incentive in Santa Cruz. The incentive offers teachers a variety of benefits for retiring early, thus eliminating the need to pay their salaries.

One of these benefits was the option to continue working 20 days a year for $5,000. However, it turns out that this particular measure would cost more than it saved, so 38 of the 41 teachers who had initially committed to the early retirement plan agreed to opt out of it.

“It’s a little complicated … when we first did the calculations, it didn’t work out quite right,” said Don Maxwell, Santa Cruz Board of Education trustee.

In addition to changing retirement plans, the district is also considering shortening the academic school year, and downsizing the Adult Education program. The nearby Pajaro district recently began a shorter school year.

Teachers Union President Barry Kirschen, said shortening the school year may be the district’s only option. “Without adequate funding, we can’t keep the doors open,” he said.

According to Board of Education trustee Don Maxwell, the school year may be shortened by up to a full week.

“Losing five days is losing five days,” Maxwell said. “It’s going to be difficult.”

The entire adult education staff has already been issued preliminary pink slips.

However, Maxwell said “[Adult Education Program] is not going to be completely eliminated,” and that some general education classes will still be offered.

He said that it is “unfortunate that the state has made us choose between children and adults.”

According to Kirschen, one of the proposed solutions is the hope that “California will pass progressive taxes” similar to Measures 66 and 67 in Oregon, which passed in January. These measures raised taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals to benefit education.

Even with the cuts, the Santa Cruz City School District still manages to have programs that few districts in the state have been able to hold on to.

In an email to City on a Hill Press, Board of Education trustee Ken Wagman said, “don’t lose sight of the fact that in these crazy state budget times, SCCS in 2010-2011 will still have an elementary through 12th grade standards-based program in music and art taught by credentialed music and art teachers, our school libraries will have credentialed librarians, we will still have secondary counselors, just about all 9th grade classes in English and math will be small, and all kindergarten through 3rd grade classes will be small.”

Wagman attributed this to voter-approved taxes for public schools.

Meanwhile, Kirschen believed it will be difficult to find any more opportunities to cut back on expenses.

“Every department has already been cut to the bone — there isn’t much left we can do.”