Modesto City Schools officials are preparing to cut $25 million in spending for the next school year, 10 percent of the district's budget.
The extent of those reductions weighed heavily on two dozen managers, teachers, staff and community members at the district's budget advisory committee meeting Tuesday afternoon.
"We know how bad it's going to be, but I don't think the teachers and the managers understand the magnitude," said Chris Flesuras, deputy superintendent of human resources.
Modesto is one of many districts in Stanislaus County and the state that will have to make drastic spending cuts for the 2010-11 school year.
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The past two years of reductions have been less noticeable for employees, parents and students than next year's will be, officials said.
Most districts will start detailed discussions in January, once Gov. Schwarzenegger releases his 2010-11 budget proposal, which may include more cuts for the current year.
Modesto City Schools' advisory committee is charged with looking into areas the district could trim and recommending cutbacks to administrators.
The final decisions are left to the district's elected board of education, which usually acts on its budget in early spring.
At Tuesday's meeting, members broke into small groups to talk about prioritizing a list of 50 cuts.
Johansen High School Principal Thor Harrison noted that when he added up each item's estimated cost savings, he totaled $11.5 million — not even half of what the district needs to axe.
"I think we need to look at what services do we need to keep schools open?" said Jim Pfaff, director of state and federal programs.
Committee members and the district's board of education will confront difficult decisions about whether to do things such as rolling back employee pay, closing schools or reducing the number of days in the school year.
The state will fund 180 days of school even if districts drop to 175 days, Flesuras said.
12.5% salary reduction?
Modesto Teachers Association President Barney Hale said cutting $25 million would require every employee to take a 12.5 percent pay cut.
Officials also looked at ways to raise revenue. Hale asked if the district was considering a parcel tax, which increases taxes on land to fund specific programs, such as athletics, small class sizes or music. It would need two-thirds approval from voters.
"The only districts who passed parcel taxes (in the last election) were affluent districts," Flesuras said.
Some committee members paused at the beginning of the meeting to acknowledge The Bee's presence, asking whether what they say during discussions would end up in the paper.
Pfaff said he was worried that open discussion would be stymied, even though state law requires the district to keep the meetings open to anyone who wants to observe.
The next budget advisory committee meeting will be at 3 p.m. Jan. 26 in staff development rooms 1 and 2, 426 Locust St. The meeting is open to the public.