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    School Board seeks ideas on budget tonight

    By Barbara Grady

    With 42 school programs on the chopping block – everything from music in the elementary schools to athletics at the high school – the Albany Board of Education will meet Tuesday night to discuss how to salvage some of these programs with parcel tax revenues and community fundraising.

    The board of education will meet at 7:30 at the Community Center on Marin Avenue and take stock of its list of earmarked cuts and a small pool of money that comes each year from parcel taxes that Albany voters passed in 1999 and 2005.

    The parcel tax measures specified what types of things those local tax revenue could be spent on. For instance, the parcel tax measure of 2005 cites extracurricular activity as one of the things the money is intended for. So one potential question for the board to wrestle with is whether music and athletics fit the description as extracurricular activities and thus could be partly funded by the parcel tax. Another item specified in the parcel tax measures is retaining teachers. So could preserving courses such as biology or AP calculus – and thus providing jobs for the teachers who teach them – be construed under the parcel tax language as retaining teachers?

    The difficult set of choices the board and community face came about because the state of California slashed education funding as a way to balance the deficit-ridden state budget. It is taking away $2.1 million from Albany schools, the equivalent of about $800 a student over a year and a half.

    Board member Miriam Walden said the board hopes parents and students come to tonight’s meeting and help the board decide what programs must be kept and what can go or be funded another way. All of the 42 items the board has earmarked for elimination look valuable. But some look very valuable, such as an assistant principal at the middle school – the person responsible for discipline – or senior level classes at the high school, music in the elementary schools, or performing and visual arts at all schools. Another vital one is the seventh period at the high school. Many high school students have planned their four years around an expectation that certain courses would be around in their senior year. The budget cuts threaten many of those courses.

    The district has already slashed many non-teaching costs. For instance, Superintendent Marla Stephenson cut her own pay by 30 percent and eliminated many administrative positions at the district office.

    Albany’s 1999 and 2005 parcel taxes add up to only $500 a household but, multiplied by all the households in town, they bring in at least $2 million. So if the board can find some flexibility in allowable spending on parcel tax revenues, it might be able to replace the school programs on the chopping block in exchange for less immediate needs.

    Article by Barbara Grady-Ayer (barbgrady@sbcglobal.net)

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