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Schools Start Furlough
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School will not be in session on Friday, Oct. 15 as the Oakdale Joint Unified School District prepares for a near-full shutdown on its first furlough day — a direct result of state budget cuts.

“Our attempt is to shut down the entire district,” Superintendent Fred Rich said.

He said that the bulk of all certificated, management, and classified employees will be taking the day as a non-paid vacation day. The only exception will be a few custodial employees who will be utilized to cover essential services at the home football game at Oakdale High School; however, those employees will take Monday, Oct. 18 off as their non-paid day. Others covering the football game will be administrative staff and volunteers. The football coaches will still receive their stipends, which are basically a flat rate, but won’t receive their teacher’s pay that day.

There are five total furlough days scheduled in OJUSD schools this year, which are not staff or student vacation days.

“Most of the school districts in the state and the state offices have taken advantage of these days,” Rich said.

California School Employees Association (CSEA) chapter #830 President and district employee Mark Mutoza concurred. He also serves on the CSEA state communications committee for Area E and said that these types of cuts and furlough days are going on up and down the state in school districts.

Rich said the furlough days were negotiated with both unions in the district, the CSEA chapter and the Oakdale Teachers Association. He said the furlough days are a short-term solution, and while not ideal, are considered better than just docked pay.

He reported that the days off without pay are part of a salary rollback of two-and-a-half percent.

“The last two years we’ve been taking salary reductions to save people’s jobs,” Mutoza said.

Mutoza added that the furlough days are still salary reductions. However, he said that “the district was gracious enough” to give something in return in the form of days off.

“I think people felt it was a necessary evil,” Rich said, adding that there haven’t been any strongly negative reactions from employees because they’re aware of the state economy, but that most people would prefer to work that day and be paid.

Rich reported that the California Department of Education allowed school districts to lower their minimum number of instructional days. OJUSD has gone from 180 days to 175 instructional days for this school year to help resolve its budget issues.

“Closing the schools for an additional five days per school year reduces expenses such as payroll, utilities, and transportation costs,” said OTA President Linda Kraus. “Furloughs also result in less student instruction days to cover the same amount of required curriculum — another disservice the state’s politicians are doing to our students.”

Rich acknowledged that there is less time to accomplish more, but that everyone is mindful of their time use in the instructional period. He said there is still quality of instruction and what happens in the context of the school day is important.

“What’s really good about our district is it’s a small community, a family community, where people pull together to save people’s jobs,” Mutoza said.

He said that the state’s budget issues are still of concern and that he’s not looking forward to next year’s budget woes. But he added that he has faith that all his membership will pull together and do what they need to do to save jobs once again.

Rich said that until the state legislature fixes its budgetary issues, these problems won’t go away and furlough days may be an option for 2011-2012.

“There needs to be a better solution,” Rich said. “…We would prefer not to be dealing with furlough days.”

Rich also said that the school district tried to plan its furlough days around weekends, so as to try to cause as little disruption to students’ families and employees in the district as possible. All of the furlough days fall on Fridays, except for one that is on a Tuesday following a three-day weekend with a Monday holiday.

According to information Kraus provided from the California Teacher’s Association, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed an additional $2.5 billion cut from school funding. That is in addition to the $17 billion already cut from education funding over the last two years. It said that if the Governor’s proposal is passed, funding for every California student in grades K-12 will be cut by a total of $2,500 per year. Also, it said schools have lost more than 20,000 teachers and administrators and more than 10,000 school site support staff to layoffs and fewer resources.