By Jim Steinberg Staff Writer
Created: 03/03/2011 09:48:51 PM PST

FONTANA – School district employees and board members are working on ways to carve money from the district’s budget after the board on Wednesday night voted against a recommendation to potentially fire all 68 of the district’s counselors.

Fontana Unified Superintendent Cali Olsen-Binks said Thursday that the board’s decisions not to cut school counselors, 26 of 37 library specialists, the adult school and other items means she needs to find an additional $8 million in cuts – and soon.

There will likely be an emergency board meeting for a special budget session next week, Olsen-Binks said.

Prior to her vote against the superintendent’s recommendation against the termination of counselors, board member Leticia Garcia said she had submitted 30 ideas for alternative cuts to Olsen-Binks.

Board President BarBara Chavez said Thursday, “we have to find areas to cut somewhere.”

Chavez said she hopes to get ideas for cuts from Michele McClowry, a fiscal expert assigned to the district by the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools.

McClowry said she would be meeting with the district and “was very disappointed” with the board’s actions Wednesday.

Prior to the voting, McClowry told the board that even with all the cuts on the agenda, the district would likely have a cash flow crisis this summer.

“I thought I had explained the importance of doing this (the cuts),” she said Thursday. “They made the easy cuts and didn’t make the hard ones.”

McClowry and Olsen-Binks said a solution may come from union concessions.

“A lot of bargaining issues are on the table. It depends on what the district is willing to take,” said Richard Bruce, president of United Steelworkers Local 8599, which represents the classified employees, those district employees not certified to teach or counsel.

Chavez could not vote to eliminate the district’s school counselors, because she knows first-hand how they helped her five children get into college, she said.

And she could not trim the ranks of library specialists because “I know every face and I could not have those faces haunting me.”

The budget pressures faced by the district are being mirrored across the state, said Michele Huntoon, an associate vice president, with School Services of California Inc., a Sacramento-based lobbying and financial consulting firm for school districts.

“All the reductions that were low-hanging fruit have already been done. It’s getting harder and harder to make more cuts … now they are grinding the stump,” she said.

The budget reductions facing the staff and the board are all focused on a worst-case scenario.

Many cuts could be avoided if Gov. Jerry Brown is successful in his plan to hold a special election in June to extend temporary hikes in income, auto and sales taxes for five years.

If Brown’s strategy works, it would bring an additional $13 million into the FUSD and $2 billion into school districts statewide, Olsen-Binks said.

But it’s not clear that measure will get on the ballot and, if it does, it’s unknown if the voters would approve it, she said.

And McClowry said the district could still face a cash-flow crisis this summer even if voters approve the extension.

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