James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/23/2011 06:16:20 PM PST

SAN BERNARDINO – Expecting a shortfall of $25 million next year, the school board has approved big budget cuts, including an across-the-board pay cut and the second increase in class sizes in as many years.

The San Bernardino City Unified School District board voted 4-1 on Tuesday, with two members absent, to approve $25 million in proposed cuts for the 2011-12 school year. The cuts were made assuming that voters in June will reject Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to extend several tax increases.

“If the extension passes, it would be a $9 million cut,” said board President Danny Tillman. “If (the extensions) don’t pass, it’s a $25 million cut.”

The cuts call for increasing class sizes in Kindergarten through third grade to 30 students per classroom – up from 25 students this year and 22 students the year before. The move would cut 86 teacher positions and save $5.7 million, officials said.

School board member Louise Ayala, who voted for the cuts, said the increased class sizes are her biggest concern.

“It’s really a tragedy,” she said. “When I worked (as a teacher), it was 20 to one, which is really the perfect size. … But when you get 30 kids in there, it’s hard to keep track of them.”

Tillman said it’s a tough but necessary move.

“If we can’t afford it, we can’t afford it,” he said.

He also said having larger classes might cut other costs – by not using as many classrooms, for instance – and could help the district meet its goal of having all students on a regular school year.

While the class size increase would be the most noticeable cut for parents and students, the biggest chunk of the $25 million in cuts approved Tuesday is a 5 percent pay cut for all district employees, which would save $10.5million. The cut must be negotiated with unions representing teachers and other district employees.

Rebecca Harper, president of the San Bernardino Teachers Association, said teachers won’t like the pay cut proposal, but she didn’t reject it outright.

“Our members have already taken three days off their calendar, and they are already under a 1.93 percent pay cut over three years,” Harper said. “Putting 5percent on top of that is just too much. We don’t have it to give.”

But Harper also said the school board’s “hands were tied.”

“This was something they had to do,” Harper said. “I can’t say I agree or disagree.”

Tillman and Ayala said they both believe the unions will accept the pay cut.

Board member Teresa Parra Craig voted against the cuts. One of her concerns was that the cuts included eliminating librarians in elementary schools – a cut Tillman said will likely be undone.

But Parra Craig also said she didn’t think district staff presented the board with other cost-cutting options.

“We have a $5 million Edison bill,” she said. “Why aren’t we making it a policy that we have to cut that by 5 or 10 percent? … And if we reduce that bill by $500,000, you could eliminate a few of those other cuts.”

Board member Judi Penman, who voted for the cuts, agreed, saying the district doesn’t scrutinize spending on utilities, materials and staff pay.

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