Preparation for worst may lead to school layoffs
During his address to Congress Tuesday night, President Barack Obama credited his recently passed $787 billion Stimulus Package would, among other things, save teachers’ jobs. Education is, after all, a priority of Mr. Obama’s.
From the looks of things, the plan would assist the nation’s school districts with part of $150 billion in new federal spending, a big two-year investment that more than doubles the Department of Education’s budget. Whether the president’s teacher safety net extends inside the California state line is another matter. California may have a new budget, but the deficit-closing measures it contains won’t lessen some of the devastation left in its fiscal wake.
None of this has been lost on Mammoth Unified School Superintendent Dr. Frank Romero, who told the MUSD School Board during its monthly meeting Monday night that pink slips may be on the horizon. “Based on projections, the budget’s going to end up a little short,” Romero said. K-3 Classroom Size Reduction reimbursements from the state have already been deferred to July of this year, possibly later, which contributes to the District’s expected $326,000 shortfall.
He said all this could mean cutting up to 5 FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) positions: 3 Elementary Class Size Reduction (CSR) positions, 1 High School English CSR position and 1 High School Physical Eduction position.
“This may or may not happen, depending on what happens between now and when the state budget is finalized,” Romero told The Sheet.
The key word here is “may.” At the moment, the layoffs are preemptive in nature. If any staffing reductions can be enacted going forward, should they be necessary, they legally have to be included in the interim budget that must be submitted to the state by mid-March. Romero went on the record months ago saying he wasn’t taking any chances, hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.
Teacher, I need you …
Needless to say, none of this was lost on the packed library of teachers and parents, either. The discussion was absolutely civil, but fiery in that strong opinions were the order of the evening.
Teacher salaries make up a large part of the MUSD budget, and a chorus in the crowd said they would prefer pay adjustments to pink slips. Many also have to cover at least some part of their benefits, and some haven’t had a Cost Of Living Allowance raise in more than a decade.
“America doesn’t pay its teachers,” commented Board member Greg Newbry. He cited the case of his daughter, who was considering a career as an English teacher. “She saw the pay scale and [reluctantly] switched to nursing.”
One group of concerned parents called for exempting Dual Immersion (DI) English-Spanish program teachers from layoff consideration. In a letter to the Board, Tabby Mannetter, speaking for the DI Parent Advocacy Group, said, “Because several of our DI teachers have been some of the most recent hires and some have only temporary status.” Essentially this means DI teachers are at the bottom of the seniority list and could be the first ones to be laid off, depending on the state budget and what effect any cuts will have on MUSD’s budget.
“The group … asks that based on California Ed. Code that our bilingual teachers be ‘skipped’ on the seniority list, based on the special skills they possess that are ‘required’ to continue the [valuable] DI program,” Mannetter went on to say.
Mannetter and the group pointed out part of the MUSD code that allows exemptions from such action if a “specific need” is established. Others in the group wondered, “Protection? What protection?” All were supportive of Dual Immersion, or at least had no problem with the program, but firmly opined that longer-serving teachers should be given first consideration.
Board president Shana Stapp said she sympathized with everyone in the room when it came to job security. “We have to make the hard decisions that bring us to tears and keep us up nights,” she said. “I have no protection. On [Friday] March 13, my stomach will be in my throat, but we have a budget to submit, and have to follow the laws as set forth by the state.”
And those laws make various remedies hard to enact. Furloughs, for instance, aren’t an option; without a waiver, the state mandates 180 classroom days, AND a certain number of minutes (not “OR,” as Romero pointed out). And Romero said it’s uncertain whether a waiver would be granted in any case.
Romero indicated that all options are still on the table; only the categories for reduction have been identifed, and as yet no specific teachers or teacher groups have been singled out.
One idea, just proposed and a long-term proposition at this point in time, suggests a 0.5% hike in Mono County’s sales tax rate (currently 7.25%), that could generate up to $2 million annually, largely dedicated to schools.
A special meeting has been called for Thursday, March 12, at 5:30 p.m. in the High School library to get public input on the budget situtaion. Dr. Romero urged any and all concerned parents to attend and help.