The Santa Cruz Sentinel today urged district bargaining units and administrators to quickly move forward together to address the $5.2 million shortfall in an editorial.  To help our readers better understand the issues facing our schools, we are reprinting the editorial here:

One of the worst aspects of California’s revenue shortfall is what it’s doing to local school districts.

Santa Cruz City Schools is almost a poster child for how a smallish district of 7,000 students is forced to make unpalatable choices based on a budget that won’t balance without major cutbacks.

It hasn’t helped that in Santa Cruz, the debate over how to make up an anticipated shortfall of $5.2 million had turned into a negotiating battle between administrators and the teachers union.

Now, there appears to be light at the end of the deficit tunnel, if both sides build on actions taken last week by the district’s board of trustees.

This light should lead to an agreement that will solve many of the most painful issues the Santa Cruz district is facing — shortening the school year by five days.

The board’s action approving a retirement package for 41 teachers opens the door to saving smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade — one of the provisions in the last parcel tax approved by voters to help fund the district.

If the board’s approval Wednesday night leads to a shorter school year, that could also allow the district to bring back school librarians, counselors and music programs — also funded by the parcel taxes.

Shortening the school year, while unpalatable, is a move that other school districts in California, including the Pajaro Valley district, have already taken. Many also have agreed to teacher

furloughs in an effort to save teaching positions.

In Santa Cruz, district administrators said they would take a nine-day furlough. But as the district prepared to lay off 100 teachers in grades K-12, Superintendent Gary Bloom and union President Barry Kirschen could not resolve a dispute about the early retirement packages.

Without getting into the complicated finances and implications of the early retirement plan, moving forward is key to unlocking further talks to shorten the school year and preserve smaller class sizes.

That’s what the school board, supported by Bloom, did.

Lost in this is that teachers received a 5.4 percent salary increase in the 2006-07 school year. If they lose the five days in the upcoming 2010-11 school year, this would be a one-time pay cut of about 2.8 percent, according to several people close to the negotiations — or about half the increase granted four years previously. District employees have not had a pay cut since then, despite the recession.

The union has said it wants binding arbitration and changes in health benefits that would help make the loss of five days more palatable.

Both sides have until Friday to come to a final agreement about shortening the school year by five days. If they don’t, the stalemate would go to an outside arbitrator to resolve.

Voters in good faith agreed to two parcel taxes to keep essential school programs. The fight over a retirement package is really a side issue that has sidestepped the interests of parents and students.

Considering the size of the deficit, and the resolve of the school board, the district and the union should accept the one-time cut to preserve jobs and continue small class sizes.

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