“We’ve tried to keep it as far away from the classroom as possible,” said board member Barbara Hartsell. But, she added, doing so this year was impossible.
As many as 30 teachers will receive layoff notices before March 15, but as few as four teachers will actually be laid off if the Patterson Association of Teachers votes to approve district-wide teacher furloughs.
Union and district representatives tentatively agreed to add four furlough days to the union’s contract agreement for next year, but union members won’t have a chance to vote on the agreement until March 15 — the same day the district’s budget must be finalized. The furlough days would mean a 2 percent reduction in salary for every teacher.
According to school administrators, 85 percent of the district’s budget goes toward salaries and benefits. For teachers, four furlough days a year will reduce the budget by about the same amount losing 30 teachers. That equals nearly $537,000 worth of cuts.
“We’re left with a lot of difficult decisions,” said board member Michele Bays. “We needed to benefit the greatest number.”
School administrators were given eight to 10 furlough days last year, which will continue through next year. That means a 4 percent salary reduction for each administrator and an additional $113,279 in district-wide savings for next year.
Other cuts include increasing kindergarten through third-grade class sizes by three or four students ($476,968 in savings), not re-hiring those who will resign or retire after this year ($543,000 in savings) and cost cuts for sports transportation, energy usage, employee overtime, curriculum and staff development.
The district will also free up about $600,000 dollars from its reserves, which now total about $2.4 million.
The district hopes to make more money, about $100,000, by increasing its efforts to get funding from the federal government through Medi-Cal billing. The more students it finds who are eligible for the medical aid program, the more reimbursement money the district will receive from the federal government. School officials estimate that up to $500,000 could be raised in a year — however, they point out that aiming that high would be unrealistic.
Public comment time during both meetings in which the board met to discuss the budget garnered feedback from parents and teachers, including questions about what they could do to help. One option, says Assistant Superintendant of Administrative Services, Steve Menge , is to simply have fewer students miss school.
“About 220 kids were absent every day on average last year,” he said. A mere 1 percent increase in attendance, Menge contended, would give the school about $250,000 more in state money.
Superintendent Patrick Sweeney added that Medi-Cal billing, increases in attendance, and energy savings are ways the school can save or make money next year. At the least, he says, those savings will help prepare the district for any future state-wide budget cuts, and will hopefully lessen the need for sensitive decisions about layoffs and class size increases.
“It’s pretty amazing we were able to agree on what to cut,” he said.