During Mammoth Unified School District’s Board of Education meeting in June, Interim MUSD Finance Director Michele McClowry warned the Board in no uncertain terms that financial peril is imminent if the district doesn’t start making hard choices, including cuts, to close deficits and avert insolvency by 2015.
On Tuesday evening, during a special meeting, the Board took action, reducing its Classified Employee workforce by four positions, due to “lack of funds and existing financial inability to pay salaries.” Eliminated were a Physical Education Aide (part-time), Yard Duty Aide (part-time), Certified Grounds Manager (full-time) and a Bus Driver (full-time). According to the Education Code, all the employees are entitled to 45 days notice. Classified employees who are laid off are mandated to be the least senior employee in their respective classes (i.e. last hired, first fired). Re-employment, which isn’t likely at least in the near future, would be in order of seniority as well. The layoffs are set to take effect on Sept. 22.
Currently, MUSD is facing a roughly $800,000 budget deficit, but that figure could balloon to almost $1.3 million in November, if a tax incentive package placed on the ballot by Governor Jerry Brown is not passed by voters. MUSD Superintendent Rich Boccia’s agenda bill on the reductions stated, “The present state of our local finances, including the Town of Mammoth’s recent declaration of bankruptcy, the reduction in the local property tax and the pending November initiatives, place the school district in a position that it must take action to maintain fiscal solvency.”
The District’s top stated priority is to “establish and maintain the financial resources necessary to accomplish [its] vision.” McClowry explained in June that by year three of her projected timeline starting this fiscal year, MUSD’s reserve would drop below the state-mandated 3%, and likely dip below 0%, essentially plunging the District budget into insolvency, if the District did not act.
Boccia went on to point out that since he was appointed Superintendent in 2010, MUSD has cut its budget 25%. “We’re going in the wrong direction, and it’s sad that we have to,” he told the Board. With attrition, he explained that retiring, leaving or otherwise unfilled positions have saved $86,000, and that this round of layoffs would save an additional $126,000, still short of the $800,000 best case scenario needed to close the deficit.
“We are trying to come up with a fair-share plan, and have more budget work to do,” he added. “Staff continues to develop other strategies to reduce our expenditures to meet Board policy and [California] education code requirements, other than a reduction in workforce.”
That reduction, which Boccia said would impact the classroom, since instructional assistants and custodians provide valuable support, is only one element of a financial plan. “We are also in ongoing negotiations with employee groups.”
Mono County’s Office of Education is requiring submission of an action plan no later than Aug. 15 that addresses how MUSD will meet its financial goals, and especially its state mandates.
Prior to the vote, Board member Jack Farrell asked if the reductions were contingent on passage of Brown’s tax initiative package. Boccia replied that the reductions have really nothing to do with the tax package. “This has to happen,” he said.
“I have a knot in my stomach,” Board member Gloria Vasquez commented. “It’s a shame to have to release people because we just don’t have the money.”
The vote was taken to the sound of what were audibly heavy-hearted “ayes” from all Board members.
Aspirations and Priorities
The MUSD Board also formally adopted a slighty-revised list of five main priorities, including no changes to its financial and communications priorities, an expanded student achievement priority, a plan to adopt K-12 state core standards for English Language Arts, Math, and Science and History Social Science at secondary schools, as well as “embracing technology as the cornerstone to the way we teach and learn.”
Strategic aspirations will be revisited when Boccia brings back a final list for consideration during the next Board meeting on Aug. 23.
“Even with budget cuts and so on, we have to continue forward thinking, and that includes spending time on what our core values are,” he said.
Stapp hopes to return
Former Board member and president Shana Stapp told The Sheet this week, “I’ve thrown my hat into the ring again.”
Stapp said she would run for one of two positions for the MUSD School Board in the November election. The deadline for filing is this Friday, Aug 10. However, if no incumbents file, then the deadline could be extended to Wednesday, Aug 15.
“As far as I know, I am the only one that has filed so far,” she said.
If no one else files by the final deadline, Stapp’s name would not appear on the ballot; she would be elected by default. The second position would be filled by a call for applicants and a series of interviews.