Budget cut crash course
by John Saiz | Patterson Irrigator
Feb 20, 2009 | 258 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A plan to cut $3.6 million from next year’s Patterson Joint Unified School District budget will be unveiled at Monday night’s board meeting.

The district’s budget advisory committee drafted the plan, which recommends layoffs, salary decreases across the board and the closure of Rising Sun Elementary.

“It’s not something we want to,” district Superintendent Patrick Sweeney said. “It’s something we have to.”

The school board has final say regarding the recommendations. Board members are not expected to make any decisions at Monday’s meeting, Sweeney said. Monday will be an opportunity for the board to review the recommendations and for the public to make comments.

The following meeting, on March 2, is when the board is expected to act.

However, district staff have already started preparing people for anticipated cuts. Several employees received notice that their positions have been recommended to be eliminated, and Sweeney estimated when it’s all done, close to 30 teachers are likely to be let go. He also anticipates laying off administrators and classified staff, but did not provide figures.

Employees at Rising Sun Elementary let parents know at a Wednesday meeting there’s a chance the school could close next year.

Rising Sun is a unique school in the district. It is the only school that has three grades — third, fourth and fifth — in one classroom. Grades one and two share a class, and kindergartners have one classroom.

For Larry Gould, a parent of a Rising Sun fifth-grader, putting students in a more typical setting, with larger class sizes, is not what he wants for his child. He wanted to fight to keep Rising Sun open, and he had hoped to get donations and volunteers to keep the school running.

But not everyone agreed that Rising Sun’s class structure was best for the students.

“If your children really want a good education, they need to be in a larger school,” Sweeney said.

A Rising Sun teacher spoke of the challenges of teaching several grade levels at once.

“You have no idea how difficult it is to have third, fourth- and fifth-graders all in one class,” Gemma Rodriguez said.

Ultimately, the closure would save the district about $160,000 annually, Sweeny said. That’s less than half a percent of the estimated $3.6 million shortfall.

Almost all the cost saving from shutting Rising Sun would come from the reduction of staff. Now, there are two full-time teachers, a long-term substitute, an instructional aide and two part-time employees working at the school.

The 36 students who planned to go to Rising Sun next year will have the option to go to Northmead Elementary or Grayson Charter School. However, Grayson Charter is a dual-language immersion school, meaning classes are taught half the time exclusively in English and half the time exclusively in Spanish.

Prospective students must pass a series of tests to establish that they will be able to succeed in the program. If they don’t pass the test or don’t want to be in the dual-language program, students can go to Northmead.

There’s a possibility students could be placed in another school, but Sweeney said for the most part, it would be easiest to transport the students to Northmead.

He did pose another option of independent studies, but of the more than a dozen people who attended Wednesday’s meeting, none were interested in this option.

Another cost-savings suggestion before the board is an across-the-board 4 percent salary decrease for all employees, which would reduce costs by about $2.2 million. However, that would require support from the employee unions, which has not been given, Sweeney said.

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