About 120 people -- mostly teachers and staff -- broke into small groups Monday night to hash out how the Modesto City Schools District can cut $25 million in spending for the next school year.
They suggested saving programs such as AVID, music, arts and sports and recommended chopping spending on drug-sniffing dogs, summer school and administrative tasks.
The attendees spent 45 minutes brainstorming in small groups, then voiced their concerns during an open-microphone session. Held at Hanshaw Middle School in south Modesto, the meeting was the first of two public budget forums.
The district's Board of Education -- the group that will make the final decision on cuts -- attended to observe and collect ideas. Trustee Gary Lopez was absent because he had to work.
Listing priorities and areas to cut was difficult for some attendees because estimated price tags were not available.
"Without the dollar figures, it's like cutting your grass at night," said Dante Concepcion, about the lack of information. Concepcion teaches fourth grade at Bret Harte Elementary.
Trustees said as many as 75 percent of the participants worked for the school district, possibly skewing the input they collected. Many of those groups called for trims in the administrative ranks.
Support programs praised
One of Monday night's themes was the importance of keeping support programs such as AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination, which offers tutoring and counseling to students who would be the first in their family to attend college. Several middle and high school students spoke about how they've benefited from the program.
One resident wondered about the necessity of buying new textbooks as often as the district does.
"I guess I'd like more information on textbook purchases," said Jennifer Ward. "The purchases seem outrageous and quite a waste, not only for our tax dollars but for our planet."
Marshall Elementary School parent Nora Ramos was among several people who urged administrators and trustees to look for community partnerships.
Ramos said she's worried that teachers will be overwhelmed with students if class sizes increase. If that's the case, officials should search for parent volunteers to be in class to help support teachers and students and add another set of eyes in classrooms, she said.
"A lot of parents are not working right now," she said. "If I could (volunteer in classes) with six kids, I know other people can, too."