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San Luis Coastal's no longer safe from recession 

The richest school district in San Luis Obispo County cut $4.74 million from its budget on May 22, a move that will decimate the district’s technology replacement fund, reduce adult education offerings, suspend the early music program for kids in grades 1 through 3, and restructure services for English learners.

Thanks to higher-than-average local property values and extensive payouts from a nuclear behemoth on the beach, San Luis Coastal Unified School District had, until recently, been relatively insolated from the statewide recession-inspired budget-slashing rampage.

“We’re in good shape in terms of the district and where it’s going,” Director of Personnel Ryan Pinkerton told New Times at the time.

But home values plummeted for two years in a row, and the state reclaimed $4 million in categorical funds from the district. The 5- to 7-percent pay increase they issued in February of this year certainly didn’t help the situation.

Facing a structural deficit of $10 million, an executive budget committee of key stakeholders met six times to dissect the budget and identify areas where cuts could be made. Superintendent Eric Prater added his own suggestions (more cuts to professional development, less from music) and introduced the proposals to the board of trustees at a May 8 public meeting.

“I don’t like any of this, but these cuts represent a strong process,” Prater said.

An uproar from parents concerned about $660,000 in cuts to the English Learners and Teachers on Special Assignment programs prompted the superintendent to revise his proposals so the programs could keep an extra $210,000. The additional funds will be used to transition the program from a model that takes students out of their regular classrooms to receive assistance from language specialists, to one where the primary teacher plays a more involved role.

“All of us need to take ownership of all of our students—not just specialists,” Prater said. “Ironically, I believe these cuts will strengthen our commitment to English learners.”

Before approving the cuts, the board revised the proposals to save a registered nurse position and to transfer money earmarked for music supplies to instead fund a music instructor. A majority of trustees approved the cuts, but Walter Millar, Marilyn Rodger, and Ellen Sheffer voted against the amendments, expressing concern that any programs or positions saved would only be cut down the road.

“This is the first year [of cuts]. There will be a second and probably a third,” Assistant Superintendent Russell Miller said. “Ultimately, we’re looking at a complete restructuring of our funding model.”

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