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Districts prepare for ‘worst-case' scenarios

More than 60 jobs on line if state tax extension fails
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Over the past three years, school districts in California have been forced to cut expenditures by about 20 percent.

“That’s $1 out of every $5. That’s huge,” said Mark Geyer, superintendent of Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District.

But the worst may still be yet to come as districts brace for what happens if Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed temporary tax extension fails to materialize.

If the extension is adopted, school districts would be minimally impacted for the 2011-12 academic year. If the measure fails, the Legislative Analyst’s Office anticipates $4.6 billion in cuts for public schools across the state.

Brown’s budget calls for a ballot initiative asking voters to approve a five-year extension of the vehicle license fee, sales tax and state income tax, which have been in place since 2009.

California Teachers Association is urging lawmakers to place the measure on the ballot for voters to decide in a special election June 7. This requires a two-thirds approval by the Legislature, which means a handful of Republicans will have to join Democrats in supporting Brown’s proposed budget to address an estimated $26.6 billion deficit.

Meanwhile, school districts scrambled to meet the state-mandated March 15 deadline to submit second interim budget revisions for the upcoming school year — and issue preliminary pink slips.

Preparing for ‘worst-case scenarios’

The Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District board of trustees approved $1 million in budget cuts, which will likely result in about 22 of the district’s 375 teachers receiving pink slips. The district also expects to lay off a handful of classified employees (final counts weren’t available by press time).

Nearly 90 percent of the district’s budget pays for employees’ salaries and benefits.

“We try, but you really can’t save enough pencils and paper because so much of our budget is tied up with people,” Geyer said.

The district — currently with a $47.5 million operating budget — continues to experience declining enrollment and kindergarten registration for the upcoming year is lower than projected.

This plan reflects the “worst-case scenario we can think of right now,” Geyer said, which includes the tax extension failing. Dry Creek is using $1.3 million in Federal Education Jobs Funds to mitigate the effects of these layoffs, which is going to cover custodial and other classified positions, retain some teaching positions and keep class sizes down by two students per class.

“We know it’s better for students to have smaller classes and it brings more teachers back from layoffs,” Geyer said.

The district stayed away from cuts to middle school music programs, athletics and campus clubs.

“We’ve been through this before,” Geyer said. “This is the third year. We’re not happy but there’s less mystery about the process. It’s terrible to say that we’re used to budget cuts, but at least we know how to respond.”

Roseville City School District Superintendent Richard Pierucci said if Brown’s tax extension passes, his district projects a $170,000 reduction to its $63 million operating budget.

“This is an amount we would be able to absorb without any further negative sanctions within the district,” Pierucci said in an update to staff, parents and students. “However, if his attempts fail, our best-case scenario would result in about a $3.3 million reduction to the district.”

This would require the district to divert about $2.5 million from the general fund, which covers such things as maintaining lower class sizes, instructional materials and school maintenance. The district would also continue furloughs and shorten the school year by three days.

On March 3, Roseville City School District’s board of trustees approved the non-reemployment of 30.5 full-time equivalent temporary certificated employees, and voted to reduce or eliminate 3.75 full-time equivalent English Language resource teachers.

Board member Rene Aguilera said the district had to take action by Tuesday’s deadline, but plans to rehire all impacted employees. The district is also offering an early-retirement incentive to help the budget.

Aguilera said unlike surrounding communities, the district doesn’t suffer from declining enrollment and plans to build nine more schools in the next decade.

“Luckily, we’re in a growing district,” he said.

Over in Granite Bay and east Roseville, Eureka Union School District recently approved layoff notices for 10.7 full-time equivalent certificated employees — to accommodate declining enrollment, temporary class size increase from 21.5 to 23.5 students and less need for speech services.

“While the board approved the temporary increase in K-3 class size, they did so to keep options open and there is a commitment to revisit the issue in May before layoffs are implemented when there will hopefully be more information about the state budget and our enrollment numbers,” said board President Jerri Davis.

The board also approved $2.5 million in budget adjustments for 2010-11 and 2011-12. This is on top of $5.5 million in cuts over the last couple years, Davis said.

This year’s cuts include a 30 percent reduction in materials and supplies, reductions in staff development and a reliance on the Eureka Schools Foundation to fund 100 percent of the cost of music, band, choir, library and technology staffing, athletic stipends and professional development training for teachers.

If the tax extensions fail, Eureka Union School District will be faced with more cuts, which could involve “employee concessions — furlough days, salary reductions across the board — reduction of support staff’s time, reductions to library and technology services and further increases to class sizes as a last resort,” Davis said.

$20 billion cuts in three years

Roseville Joint Union High School District refrained from issuing preliminary layoff notices this year, said Ron Severson, assistant superintendent of personnel services.

If the tax extension fails, the district would have to reduce its budget for next year by about $3.2 million, which would be absorbed through the use of savings and reserves, and continuing the significant cuts made in the last two years.

This year, the district used one-time Federal Education Jobs Funds to reinstate two furlough days and reduce class sizes slightly for the spring semester. The teachers hired to accommodate the smaller classes were hired on temporary contracts. About nine of those teaching positions may not exist in the fall because class sizes would increase by one or two students.

“The larger picture is this: Over the past four years we have gone from an environment where offering core academic courses in the high 30s was an anomaly to that being the norm,” Severson said, of class sizes. “And, last fall, we had a number of classrooms that were at 40.”

When Proposition 13 passed in 1978, responsibility for financing public schools shifted from taxpayers to the state. But then the state’s economy tanked. California public schools and colleges have experienced more than $20 billion cuts over the past three years — nearly $3,000 per kindergartener through 12th grader.

“Even if (the tax extension) passes, things will be a little bit worse,” Geyer said. “These are just temporary measures to maintain current levels. These two things — the 20 percent reduction and this extension —should be a cry for people to pay attention that we have a structural deficit problem in California. We need a call to arms to come up with a responsible and sustainable budget plan.”

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.

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Certificated employees: teachers, librarians, counselors, speech therapists

Classified employees: janitors, secretaries, food service workers, bus drivers, instructional assistants