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School Board Must Cut $1.5M
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Trustees for the Oakdale Joint Unified School District met Jan. 25 to discuss how to cut $1.5 million from the 2010-2011 budget during a special budget workshop. District staff said that cutting that amount from the budget will leave the district in good shape for cash, even in declining revenues.

Many teachers, administrators, and classified employees throughout the district filled the workshop room to hear the board’s discussion, ask questions, and offer their own comments.

The school district is at the beginning of the budget process and the budget assumptions were based on the governor’s 2010-2011 state budget proposal.

“It didn’t hit education as hard as in the past, but it certainly didn’t spare education,” said Superintendent Fred Rich regarding the governor’s proposal.

The assumption is that education will be cut by a minimum of $225 for ADA (Average Daily Attendance) per student, which totals an approximate $1.16 million reduction in the contribution OJUSD receives from the state.

In addition to cuts, the district is also getting deferrals from the state, which leaves the district strapped for cash. Twenty-five percent of the money that the district is entitled to will be deferred until the next fiscal year, an amount of $4.8 million.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Tim Hern said that healthy reserves, i.e. cash, are needed to make payroll in June, July, and August. Average payroll for the district is $2.5 million per month.

Hern said that the state needs cash, so it’s taking it from the schools in the form of deferrals. Hern also said that one-time federal dollars of $1.15 million are going away in 2010-2011. He noted that the federal stimulus money had a condition that it must be spent by October 2011. In all, between deferrals and the one-time federal dollars, there is a total cumulative loss of $7 million in cash to the ending balance. Hern said that the district must have an ending balance of approximately $4.1 million in order to break even.

“As that federal dollar shrinks, so does that ending balance shrink,” he said.

With the $1.5 million in cuts recommended by district staff, the Board of Trustees reviewed the list on 80 to 90 suggested budget reductions. The suggestions ran the gamut from cuts in administration, custodial, secretarial, coaching, counselors, yard duty personnel, and some teachers, as well as cuts to stipends, class size reduction, charges for bussing, and suggested furlough days.

Oakdale Teachers Association President Linda Kraus asked that the trustees protect and keep staff. She also added comments related to certain items. One being that class size reduction is a “sacred cow” for the OTA. She said that keeping class size reduction not only will save many jobs, but also benefits the students greatly. She noted that while the teachers appreciate that the district has not laid off teachers, teaching staff has been lessened through attrition, and those students still have to go somewhere. Some classes such as in fifth and sixth grade have as many as 37 or 38 students, the same goes for some junior high classes.

Superintendent Rich said that the board had been given a priority ranking list of the proposed budget cut line items and that class size reduction was lower on the list.

Kraus also commented on the possible cuts to morning yard duty personnel. A cut to yard duty personnel would require that teachers do the a.m. yard duty work. She noted that teachers do yard duty work at lunchtime and after school, but that adding the mornings to their responsibilities would have a negative impact on students. Kraus said many teachers help students before school with homework and tutoring because some of those students don’t have the level of support or help they need at home.

There were further comments from the audience regarding the consequences of scaling back custodial staff and the role they play in school safety and cleanliness, especially considering concerns with MRSA (resistant staph) and H1N1 (swine) flu. There were comments about the roles that health clerks fill at the schools in assisting students with special medical and medicinal concerns and needs. There were also comments about stipends and that while they’re provided to personnel who put in significant extra hours, such as coaches or teachers-in-charge, many of those personnel would do some of those jobs without extra pay if it meant helping cut the budget and because they enjoy the work.

Sierra View parent and Budget Action Committee (BAC) member Rachel Jones commented that she would rather see salaries cut across the board instead of seeing programs cut for students. Several district personnel in the audience voiced their support of her statement.

Trustee Diane Gilbert noted that retiree benefits are significant, $274,000 this year and that while no changes could be made to current retiree benefits, the district should look at the future of such benefits. Hern said that those benefits are being looked at in general by school districts, but that it’s usually for new hires only and it’s a long-term solution. He added that Fresno Unified school district went bankrupt over its uncapped-for-life benefits to retirees. One teacher in the audience added that when he met with a STRS (State Teachers Retirement System) counselor, he was told that the difference between retiring at age 55 versus age 60 for him meant a significant difference. Those five extra years doubled the retirement money.

At the Feb. 8 regular meeting, the trustees will make their decisions on the cuts.

“If anybody’s going to ‘bleed,’ I’d rather have everybody bleed the same, proportionate amount,” said trustee Bill Dyer, adding that he’d rather not see anybody bleed.

“There are no easy decisions,” added Superintendent Rich.

Trustee Mike House told the audience that the board members wanted the community’s input and told the audience that if they had further comments or questions that they could contact the various trustees.

The next regular meeting of the OJUSD Board of Trustees will be at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 8 at Oakdale City Council Chambers, 277 No. Second.