MODESTO -- What to keep and what to cut if school funding drops further brought a trustee's job into sharp relief for applicants seeking a seat on the Modesto City Schools Board.
The board's six members queried applicants Monday, and will continue today, to fill the chair vacated by Cathy Flores Hallinan's resignation Sept. 10.
There were 15 applicants, but two were disqualified. Amy Rapier was not registered to vote and Jordan Dickson registered too late, district officials said.
Dealing with district finances topped the list of concerns for board members, tasking each candidate with saying what should be cut if funding drops further or what to restore if long-promised dollars arrive.
"The challenges this board is facing today are greater than anything I've seen in my 34 years," said the first applicant interviewed, retired Modesto administrator David Cooper.
Cooper advocated developing a list of priorities with input of the community and employees. Large cuts inevitably mean cutting personnel costs, he said.
Keeping class sizes low and maintaining teacher salaries topped Linda Hermann's list, but the University of Phoenix instructor said reserve levels have to stabilize first.
Charles Holmberg said as a university administrator, "I feel your pain." He suggested a budget committee with staff and student members to weigh what-if scenarios. Forging stronger community ties and keeping school days were his priority, he said.
Attorney Michael Scheid and accountant Robert Serpa, in separate interviews, said restoring the full school year was imperative. Both stressed that lowering dropout rates had to be part of the solution.
"Every one of them has a bleak future ahead of them," Scheid said.
Empire school district board member Stacie Morales said she would look at campus capacities and enrollment to study what she called consolidation. Savings could salvage programs and to even out enrollment, she said.
Christine Scheele, a substitute teacher, said the opposite that school facilities should be spared above all. Community fund-raising and volunteers could bring back music and library hours, she said. Restoring cut salaries would be her lowest priority.
Retired teacher Stephen Bonrepos would ask teachers and principals for ways to keep cuts away from students. Larger classes are better than fewer courses, he said. He called for evaluating sports and activities by participation, calling them primarily social outlets.
Prop. 30 generally favored
John Cunningham said music, the arts and vocational courses should be saved first, raising class sizes to save dollars. He called technology a game-changer and said Modesto needs to get on board.
James Standart put tech needs this way: "I'd hate to see us being the caboose." Cutting programs that affect the fewest students and restoring school days are his key concerns. But when money runs low, he said, "You have to bite the bullet."
Last up was salesman Lyle Todd Aaronson, who said he was "a research geek," who would do his homework but not come in with a set agenda. "We're here to get the job done, not invent a new job," Aaronson said. He suggested a schools and city facilities coordinator to make the most efficient, potentially profitable use of existing spaces.
A point of contention before candidates arrived was asking if they supported Proposition 30, the tax initiative put forward by Gov. Jerry Brown and supported by board resolution. Trustees voted 4-2, with Cindy Marks and Nancy Cline dissenting, to ask.
All the candidates said they backed the initiative, but many of the comments were tepid.
"The problem is breaking down the politics of it. The challenge is making sure the money gets to the schools," Morales said.
The board will discuss the interviews in open session today and make the appointment if time allows.
Hallinan resigned nine months into a four-year term, citing increased work responsibilities and travel. The appointment will last until the next board election in November 2013, when voters will decide who finishes the last two years of her term.
The Modesto City Schools Board will meet today at 3 in the staff development center, 425 Locust St. The agenda is posted at http://bit.ly/MCSmeetings.