SALIDA -- Pepé Le Pew made an appearance at Tuesday's board of education meeting.
The mascot-sized skunk paced back and forth, carrying signs reading "Something stinks at the Salida School District" and occasionally pinching his nose.
Pepé joined about 200 students, parents, district staff and community members to protest the closing of one of five Salida Union School District campuses.
Trustees made no decisions Tuesday night, but plan to approve a cost-cutting plan at their next meeting Feb. 16.
About 50 people supporting Salida Elementary School wore yellow and purple T-shirts that said "S.O.S. Save Our Schools. Salida Elementary, easiest to relocate, hardest to replicate."
The 2,900-student district needs to cut $3.25 million from its $26 million budget for next school year.
An advisory budget committee met three times over the past two weeks to discuss cost-saving options, which were presented Tuesday night. Those included increasing class sizes to 30 students per room. Committee members also voted 11-7 to recommend closing a school.
Officials discovered a $760,000 financial error in November. Coupled with declining student enrollment and cuts in state funding, the district again will borrow money from the county treasury this spring to cover employee paychecks in addition to making the deep budget cuts.
Forty attendees spoke for two hours Tuesday night. Their comments ranged from tearful pleas to keep all of the district's schools open to angry finger-pointing about district officials' budgeting mistakes.
"A school is not just a building. You can't just take staff and students and throw them on another campus. Please save our school," said Meloney Sanders, a parent who sits on the budget advisory committee, in opposition to closing Salida Elementary.
Many spoke on behalf of the school, highlighting its science, math and technology magnet program and the two Science Olympiad teams it sends to county competitions, which is rare for an elementary school.
Smaller contingents supporting Mildred Perkins and Dena Boer elementary schools showed up.
Some speakers asked for trustee resignations for not adequately overseeing district operations and allowing taxpayer money to be misused.
Others threatened to file complaints for an investigation by the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury.
"My vision of the community has been destroyed by many of you sitting up there," said an impassioned Greg Bragg, a grandparent and community member, referring to trustees and administrators sitting on the Sisk Elementary School stage. "You're planning layoffs, larger class sizes and closing schools to insulate yourselves. What horrible leadership."
Closing a school would save about $470,000 from laying off about 15 classified staff -- such as custodians and secretaries -- and one or two administrators. The most likely schools to close are Salida Elementary in downtown Salida and Mildred Perkins Elementary because they have the fewest students.
The information was a lot to take in, said newly elected Trustee Virginia Berry.
"This is the first time we've seen these options," she said. "It's mind-boggling."
Officials estimate about $1.8 million in cuts already planned, including teacher layoffs because of declining enrollment, staff retirements and restructuring the district office.
Other options presented Tuesday:
- Salary cuts for employees;every 1 percent reduction saves $164,400
- Unpaid furloughs for employees; every one-day furlough saves $81,000.
- Refinancing bonds the district sold over the past dec-ade to pay for construction projects.