The festive atmosphere of the rodeos held in Madrone along with
music in the park san jose

Details of a bill that gives school districts less authority,
panders to teachers unions and leaves just one major out for
balancing local budgets during the 2011-12 school
– shortening the school year – are still looking murky to school
district officials in Morgan Hill and Gilroy.
Details of a bill that gives school districts less authority, panders to teachers unions and leaves just one major out for balancing local budgets during the 2011-12 school – shortening the school year – are still looking murky to school district officials in Morgan Hill and Gilroy.

The bill does not allow for any teacher layoffs or a cuts to any programs in 2011-12 and funding must remain stagnant, which could mean mid-year reductions depending on lost enrollment or other factors. One certainty in Assembly Bill 114, is that school districts are able to cut up to seven instructional days. For many public schools, which have already made sweeping cuts to programs like summer school, electives and even graduation ceremonies, the most sweeping option of layoffs (salaries account for 80 percent of most district budgets) is prohibited statewide. Furloughs, now, are left as the best option for large cuts to local districts.

The pigeon-holing has been criticized by some, though Assemblymember Bill Monning, who voted for Assembly bill 114 June 28 says it’s a fair question, but the economy is driving the solution.

“You have to look at this budget in a recessionary economy, a $26-billion deficit. As we enter these budget negotiations, we protected K-12 (education) that faces no reductions. No other program in the state can enjoy that protection,” said Monning, a Democrat representing the 27th Assembly.

Monning said the bill eliminates the uncertainty of pink slips that can still be issued with some restraints in August, though both MHUSD and GUSD do not have plans to do so. Also, school district no longer have to report a three-year out budget to the county school district as in year’s past.

“School districts complain because of late budgets. It’s lack of predictability. Now, school districts can communicate they will receive this level of funding to avoid disruption in the classroom and a reduction of quality in student education. (We’re saying), you may not do layoffs in the middle of the year and we’re giving you a predicted budget level,” he said.

Democratic Assemblymember Luis Alejo who represents the 28th Assembly that includes Gilroy also voted for the bill. As of press time, Alejo has not returned several requests for a phone interview. He did send a one-sentence statement via a staff member: “AB 114 accomplished my core education priorities of protecting K-12 education funding and maintaining class sizes. We owe it to our children to put their education needs first, letting them down would be unforgivable.”

Teacher layoffs in the past three years at MHUSD have become an expected component toward budget solvency. Now, class sizes are at contract limit, said Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers’ president Theresa Sage; meaning classes can’t get any bigger without a review of the contract. Of the 21 teachers whose jobs were cut for 2011-12 so kindergarten through third-grade class sizes could go to 29 students to one teacher, 15 were lost to retirement or attrition. Sage said she’s thankful the district can give 15 jobs back, though in temporary capacities, to teachers who were laid off this year, but sadly she said, six teachers won’t be asked to return to MHUSD. “There’s no classroom for them,” Sage said.

For GUSD, an error by the district office in not sending out layoff notices by the state’s deadline, may have been good news for teachers facing those layoffs. However, eight furlough days were approved for 2011-12 to off-set the money lost in not reducing class sizes and letting go teachers. At a June 2 board meeting, class sizes were reinstated to last year’s status (24 students for 1 teacher for grades kindergarten through first, 28-to-1 for grades second through third, 32-to-1 for grades fourth through fifth and 33-to-1 for the sixth through eighth grades.)

That said, the possibility is open to laying off teachers in March 2012 because teachers work through June, the layoff is counted toward the next school year when the position has been eliminated.

Lawmakers have said they passed the bill to protect teachers’ jobs. The largest cost-savings alternative that remains for this coming school year now is reducing the amount of instructional days, which is done through furloughs of school district employees and must be negotiated with bargaining units. Sage said Thursday that the teachers’ union and the district office are in the midst of negotiating furlough days right now. Because teachers are out for the summer, a union vote would be held on the first day of school and then put in front of the school board for approval.

The bill amended to the state budget triggers cuts depending on how much revenue is raised by Dec. 15. Gov. Jerry Brown assumes the state will reach his $4 billion mark, and K-12 education will be impenetrable to statewide cuts if more than $3 billion comes in. If the revenue is not raised, $1.8 billion would be cut in K-12 and community college funding.

Sage said so far she is pleased with the state’s revenue stream – about $1.6 billion currently – and she said MHUSD has prepared for the worst-case scenario.

“The cuts we have are already preparing for flat-funding. We’re preparing for the state to give us bad news at the start or mid-year. And many district are in worse shape than ours, so this particular bill will affects others more deeply than Morgan Hill,” she said.

Superintendent Wes Smith along with Sage have been busy this summer at the negotiating table and Smith alluded to an announcement about the bargaining possibly at the next school board meeting July 26, though he wouldn’t comment on its affects. The impact of the state budget, “is speculative right now. We don’t know so we’re trying to brainstorm as many possible solutions as we can so we’re prepared for it,” he said.

As for shortening the school year: “We don’t want to have to do that. Our kids deserve as much time as they can possibly have in the classroom to learn. But that’s something we have to consider. And it still requires meeting at the bargaining table. It’s not something we can unilaterally do.”

Smith has pushed “creative ways” to balance the district’s $70 million annual budget, utilizing grants for summer school programs, early retirement incentives and ramping up energy efficiency to cut costs in the classrooms. Also, Smith refused a routine annual 3 percent pay raise in June to set an example for his employees and the district, he said.

“We will continue to look at ways to free up general fund money,” Smith said. “There are many, many things to look at.”

At the district office, Smith has restructured several positions reducing the number of directors and saving money on salaries. At the June 26 school board meeting, Smith said the topic of reducing money spent on cell phones for administrators and paying for professional development dues would come up again after it was omitted from past budget talks.

In Gilroy, the proposition of furloughs came quickly since layoffs were avoided entirely this year. GUSD officials approved eight furlough days for teachers and administrators, though they will not affect actual days in the classroom for students.

“Our question has to do with furlough days. We’re very concerned with midyear cuts, and a provision in the bill that allows districts to reduce by seven more days. Obviously for us, furlough days is a bigger question than layoffs. It’s a very complicated bill. We’re reading lots of emails from lots of district organizations that have various viewpoints.”

As for how the bill will affect GUSD directly, Kirsten Perez, the director of fiscal services will attend two upcoming workshops to bring the district up to speed.

“Quite frankly, we don’t want to rely on our own analysis. We want to hear from financial experts that we rely on,” Perez said.

Superintendent Debbie Flores pointed out that the state is telling schools they must have a balanced budget with a 3 percent reserve without layoffs, but in GUSD’s case it’s a “moot issue” since their state-mandated deadline to issue layoffs was May 15.

“Before we issue any kind of statement, we would rather attend both workshops, hear what the experts are telling us. After reviewing the information (in the bill) we have many more questions that we have no answers for. It’s a very complicated budget for K-12 education … it’s very confusing. We haven’t even given the board a briefing. We’re reluctant to say anything until we go to two workshops with top financial experts in the state.”

All layoffs and furloughs must be negotiated with the unions.

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