Deep budget cuts in MUSD’s future, board hears

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Martinez Unified School District must commit to making as much as $3.5 million in cuts to the 2019-20 budget if it is to remain certified, Assistant District Superintendent Helen Rossi told the Board of Education Monday night.

Since it was presented as an informational instead of action item, no vote was taken. But the Contra Costa County Office of Education must receive the MUSD Board’s commitment before a review of the budget June 7, she said.

“We can’t make the third year out,” she said, meaning the District would not be able to retain 3 percent of its revenues as reserves.

“The exact number is not known, but it could be as high as $3.5 million. It could be less,” Rossi said.

Contra Costa County ultimately must approve the budget, and would require the Board’s resolution, District Superintendent C.J. Cammack said.

“This comes from the county Office of Education,” Boardmember Kathi McLaughlin reiterated, because she wasn’t confident the district’s community residents realize this. “It’s required by the county Office of Education.”

“This is the second time we’ve had to do it,” Boardmember John Fuller said, referring to the previous resolution during the recession that indicated the District would be making some $2 million in cuts. “This is 50 percent higher,” he added.

McLaughlin said the Board had issued such a resolution another time since 2000.

“This is a significant issue,” she said, explaining that the Board is dealing with steeper costs for retired employees, and education funding from the state isn’t keeping pace.

And this won’t be the only budget slash in the District’s near future, Superintendent C.J. Cammack said. Between $1 million and $2 million more must be cut in the next few years.

“Sacramento says we must do more with less,” said Board President Jonathan Wright, and that leads to “dire consequences.”

Later in the meeting, he observed that voter-approved changes in the state’s taxing system “intentionally handicapped” local governments’ ability to raise revenue, and may force the Board to look at enhancing its parcel tax. “It’s frustrating for me every day,” he said.

The topic likely will be put before the Board at a meeting at 6:30 p.m. May 29, a special date since the usual meeting schedule would have had the Board convening on Memorial Day.

In another money matter, the Board agreed to earmark some of the money it saved during the construction of Alhambra High School Building K on Las Juntas Elementary School’s community play field.

Bids for that field came in $135,000 higher than expected, and Rossi suggested using some of the Building K savings so the construction could proceed.

The balanced will be underwritten by East Bay Regional Park District’s Measure WW bond money. While one parent suggested ways to trim the park costs, but the features that would have been eliminated would be underwritten by a grant, not the bond.

The playing field ultimately would be used by the community at large, not just the school, said Wright, who called the field “a lasting benefit.”

The Board heard that Alhambra High School will offer Advanced Placement college physics for the first time next year.

It authorized a year’s electronic text subscription for the new Alhambra High School classes in Physics of Earth and Space and texts for new science classes at Martinez Junior High School.

It also approved letting District administrators approve field trips for sports teams who qualify for playoffs. In the past, the Board itself had sole responsibility for authorizing such trips, requiring them to meet in special sessions when teams progressed in post-season play.

At a future meeting, the Board will consider extending a memorandum of understanding with New Leaf Collaborative, which offers students opportunities to learn about the environment, science nature through community science projects and experimental challenges and internships.

Some students become members of “green teams” and go on to teach younger children about the importance of recycling and how to reduce landfill waste.

Another presentation showed the Board the importance of the career pathways approach to training Alhambra and Vicente-Briones students in media arts, engineering, patient care, hospitality and introductions to various trades.

Juliet Stephenson
Juliet Stephenson, MUSD Student Representative, was recognized for her work on the Board of Education the past two years. An Alhambra High School senior, she will be graduated in June. (DONNA WEILENMAN/Martinez Gazette)

Student representative Juliet Stephenson, an Alhambra High School senior who will be graduated June 8, was recognized for her two years of service on the Board. She, in turn, introduced her choice to succeed her. Fatima Lizarde, an Alhambra sophomore this year who will be a junior when she joins the Board as student representative.

Stephenson was praised by Cammack and the Board for her contributions both on the Board and in other activities, and Lizarde was welcomed by the panel.

The Board also heard from several members of the Alhambra varsity softball team, who objected to the suspension of Justine Carranza, 14, and her 10-day suspension from the team.

They described how a student had taken the property from Carranza and other students. When Carranza asked for the property to be returned, an altercation happened, and both Carranza and the team said she was attacked.

The student’s mother, Rachel Carranza, said her daughter was pulled by the hair and hit on the right eye. She wasn’t satisfied with her conversation with Principal Tom Doppe, and said he cut her short.

She and the student’s teammates said Carranza was a victim and shouldn’t have been suspended, and asked for her restoration to the team.

Cammack said he was limited in what he could say about the specific matter, because a student’s records are confidential. However, he said before any student is suspended, the District conducts an extensive investigation.

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