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Eureka school board lays off 21 teachers, eliminates 49 classified positions

District cites declining enrollment, state budget cuts as reason for financial crisis
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Teachers and parents sighed and grumbled as the Eureka Union School District school board discussed the contentious issue of budget reserves, teacher layoffs and declining enrollment Thursday. The board voted 3 to 2 to save four teachers’ jobs, which leaves 21 teachers potentially out of a job next school year. Board members Kristie Greiss and Debbie Holt opposed the measure, both preferring to rescind only three notices. Forty-nine classified positions were also eliminated, which includes instructional aides, reading lab aides, night custodians and other non-teaching positions. The district has a $29 million expenditure budget and a $4.3 million deficit. Chief Business Officer Melody Glaspey said the district identified $3.7 million in cuts, which includes the layoffs. About 85 percent of the general fund covers salaries and benefits. But some believe the district could save more jobs by dipping into reserves. “Although we’re glad they rescinded four pink slips, we do feel they have laid off far too many teachers,” said Pam Ori, president of the Eureka Union Teachers Association. At the end of last school year, EUSD had a reserve of 29 percent — $8.37 million— a number that’s at the center of the debate between administrators and teachers. Glaspey said that figure doesn’t accurately reflect available funds. The 29 percent reserve includes money designated for restricted or specific programs or materials, which may not be spent every year. Eureka’s targeted budgeted reserve for this year is 12 percent. Glaspey expects the reserve to be between 22 and 24 percent — $6.25 million — at the close of the 2010 school year. EUSD expects to start borrowing from reserve funds by 2011 to satisfy cash-flow problems and board members cautioned against relying too heavily on the reserve to solve the current budget crisis. “We’re elected to make sure this district exists not just next year but five years from now,” said board member Jerri Davis. “All of us are aging and we’re not moving out of this district and we’re not having more babies.” EUSD has suffered falling enrollment for the past six years, which results in revenue loss. The board closed Eureka School in Granite Bay last year, citing declining enrollment. “Everything hinges on these enrollment numbers,” Davis said. “That’s the scary part.” Last year, the district projected 3,600 students but ended up with 3,520. This shortfall resulted in overstaffing teachers, which cost EUSD about $400,000. Thirty-eight students left the district between October 2009 and April. The district expects an increase drop in students from 4.81 percent this year to 6.17 percent for 2010-11. The district projects 3,303 students for the upcoming school year, which could be closer to 3,270 if new kindergarteners and seventh graders don’t enroll. “Right now, we don’t have enough students projected for next year,” said Rick Schrichfield, assistant superintendent for human resources. “At the rate we’re declining, one could say we’ll be under 3,000 in two years. That’s a dramatically different district.” Ori, a third grade teacher at Greenhills School in Granite Bay, said that although the student population is dropping 6 percent, the district is losing 19 percent of its teachers. With eight teachers accepting a retirement incentive, the district may lose 29 teachers total this year. “I understand (the district) wants to save, but not at the expense of people’s jobs,” Ori said. Ori said as enrollment drops, the focus should be on securing permanent teachers to provide the best learning environment for the students who remain. “We’re losing students,” Ori said. “So let’s take care of the students we have.” Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- Eureka Union School District Schools: 7 and 1 pre-kindergarten program Teachers in 2009-10: 147 Students in 2009-10: 3,520 Expenditures in 2009-10: $29 million Revenues in 2009-10: $25 million Budget deficit in 2009-10: $4.3 million Layoff notices approved: 21 teachers Source: Eureka Union School District ---------- Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District also faces declining enrollment. Some 7,243 kids attended one of Dry Creek’s 10 elementary and middle schools this year, but that number will likely lower to 7,019 next year and 6,849 in 2011-12. That’s a loss of nearly 400 kids in the next two years, which impacts revenue by about $2 million, said Gordon Medd, assistant superintendent of administrative services. Overall, Dry Creek’s current revenue of $47.3 million is projected to decrease to $43.7 million by the start of the 2011 school year. The district is currently deficit spending $2.5 million. Medd said Dry Creek will need to deficit spend another $2.5 million in 2010-11 and $4 million in 2011-12 — projected to be the worst financial year for most districts. The school board has responded to the financial crisis, in part, by approving final layoff notices of 29 certificated employees, which includes teachers, counselors and administrators. Eleven classified employees also received notices. “It’s a tough time,” said Medd, who has worked in the district for 18 years. “Nothing I can say will make it better for the teachers who are laid off.” Budget reserves need to be strong enough to soften the blow of declining enrollment, he said. Dry Creek has a 12.5 percent reserve at $6.4 million. Medd anticipates the reserve will decrease to 10 percent in 2010-11 at $4.7 million. The following year, Medd said the reserve will get down to 1 percent at $630,000. “We’ve been beaten by two bats,” Medd said. “Declining enrollment and state budget cuts.” ~ Sena Christian