Screenshot from hybrid meeting with eight people each shown in a separate box

‘Not Easy’ but Necessary: WCCUSD Approves Cuts to Jobs and More

Screenshot from hybrid meeting with eight people each shown in a separate box

“I also don’t want to see you cut yourself, bit by bit, year by year until you are nothing but a stump of a school district,” a union rep said at a meeting in which school board members approved cuts to the equivalent of more than 120 full-time jobs. (Screenshot captured by Samantha Kennedy / The CC Pulse)

By Samantha Kennedy

After avoiding significant staffing cuts for years thanks to one-time funding received as a result of the COVID pandemic, the West Contra Costa Unified school board unanimously voted Wednesday to approve cuts that will impact over 120 full-time equivalent positions.

The salary cuts, which amount to $14.1 million in reductions, are not expected to be the last as the board moves forward with its fiscal solvency plan. Those cuts are to begin the 2024-25 school year and more will be approved for 2025-26.

Board members have been reluctant to approve the cuts and imagined alternatives throughout the night — reducing the pay of cabinet members, cutting certain daily operations, Trustee Otheree Christian winning the lottery or simply having more time — but ultimately approved the cuts to avoid losing financial control.

>>>Read: School Board Votes to Allow Cutting Some Staff Hours, Not Jobs

“Tonight is not easy, and I don’t think it was meant to be easy,” Board President Jamela Smith-Folds said, “but tonight is necessary.”

The Contra Costa County Office of Education, which previously issued a letter stating the district was “at risk of insolvency,” told the district that reductions had to be made to remain solvent. If those reductions weren’t made, the Office of Education said it would take control of the district.

>>>Read: WCCUSD Faces Tough Calls to Maintain Financial Control

Most of the positions being cut are represented by Teamsters 856 and United Teachers of Richmond, accounting for over 90 full-time equivalents. A smaller number of administrators, supervisors and management are affected as well.

Though many employees will be affected, several positions being cut are already vacant. Nearly half of both Teamsters 856 and UTR full-time equivalent positions are vacant, and almost half of total reductions are currently vacant.

Some positions that were cut and drew the attention of the public were school counselors and community outreach workers.

>>>Read: WCCUSD to Try to Increase Mental Health Support Despite Shortages

Karina Ponce, a school counselor in the district, urged the board to reconsider cutting school counseling positions because of their impact on students.

“Remember that our counselors are there for our students,” she said. “We are mental health providers. We are there to support our students, especially now with the rise in suicides from our students.”

>>>Read: As Pandemic Worsens Students’ Mental Health, WCCUSD Tries to Keep Up

Veronica Diaz, a Teamsters 856 representative, said the community outreach worker positions that are being cut are always mentioned in conversations about increasing student attendance, which funding relies on, and as supports for Black, Brown and English language learner students.

“I don’t want to see you get taken over,” Diaz said, “but I also don’t want to see you cut yourself, bit by bit, year by year until you are nothing but a stump of a school district.”

Jessica Ross said the board made similar cuts to counselors last year that violated “the district’s contractual obligations” and led to successful grievances, which she said the board is doing again with the cuts to school counselors.

Board members asked for clarification from staff that these counseling positions could be cut and still maintain their obligations. Kim Moses, the interim associate superintendent of business services who presented the cuts, said the cuts did not violate the district’s contractual obligations. The district must employ a certain amount of counselors depending on student enrollment, which has declined.

Trustee Mister Phillips said that it would be difficult for district staff to come up with cuts that everyone is in favor of, but he was still curious what cuts would look like if it was made up of both staffing and alternatives.

Several positions that were slated to be cut were removed from the list. Moses said that elementary school community outreach workers and music teacher positions were taken off the list of cuts and required additional non-salary cuts.

Other cuts regarding non-salary items totaling $4.6 million in reductions were also approved at the meeting. These reductions include reducing services from legal contracts, software licenses and summer utility costs.

Even with these cuts and the ones expected for 2025-26, the district will still have to use about $28 million in special reserve funds to meet its obligations over the next two years.

“This is still a difficult road ahead even with the reductions,” said Javetta Cleveland, the district’s fiscal expert assigned by the Contra Costa County Board of Education.

The next WCCUSD board meeting is Feb. 7.

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