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Budget committee looks to off-set cuts in school funding

POSTED January 26, 2010 9:48 p.m.
The Turlock Unified School District budget advisory committee met Monday to discuss over 43 options the district could elect to implement in an effort to balance a budget that is facing a $3.9 million hit from the state.
“My biggest wish is that we wouldn’t be here talking about this,” said Sonny Da Marto, TUSD superintendent.
Out of the 43 budget cut suggestions, the ones that would save the district the most money include reducing the school year by five days, increasing the class size to a ratio of 30 students per teacher from kindergarten through third grade, and cutting all busing transportation.
If TUSD decides to reduce the school year by five days, they would save $1.92 million. They are authorized to do this under the new law ABX42, which the board of trustees recently adopted at their Jan. 5 TUSD board meeting. Despite the savings, district administration does not endorse this policy.
“Our goal is to maintain the number of days in our school year,” TUSD Human Resources Manager Mike Trainer said. “We have no intention of reducing our school year.”
But with budget cuts “more than we anticipated,” Decker said, the committee will have to leave all the suggestions on the table.
Increasing class sizes to a 30 to one ratio for kindergarten to third grade classes would save the district up to $1.94 million. This option, however, would lead to over 60 teachers receiving pink slips because there would be no need for them. Currently, TUSD has a ratio of 20.4 students to one teacher from kindergarten through third grade.
Eliminating all school transportation would save the district about $1.37 million, according to TUSD staff reports. Although, district administration said this decision could lead to a decrease in attendance, which would lead to a decrease in money that the district receives per student related to attendance.
Another transportation option discussed at Monday’s meeting was the idea of charging a fee for students to use school buses. The district is unsure about the costs per student and how much this option would save the district. And the district would not be legally allowed to charge the over 74 percent of TUSD students who are in the free and reduced lunch program.
All 43 suggestions were discussed at Monday’s meeting, with not one suggestion being favored over the other. The committee is expected to come back to the next budget advisory meeting with their preferred suggestions to start preparing recommendations for the board of trustees to vote on.
The budget advisory committee is expected to meet once a month to find ways to balance out the negative budget cuts in store for the 2010/2011 school year. They must come up with a decision regarding layoffs by the state-mandated March 15 deadline.
The cuts are coming from a decrease of the Cost of Living Adjustments, an on-going cut per student, and a decrease in school attendance, Decker said.  
The COLA, which is based on many different inflation components such as employee compensation, services, structures and nondurable goods, has decreased by 0.38 percent, therefore cutting more money from district funds, she said.  
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is also taking a $200 on-going cut per student after promising a one-time cut of $252.83 per student last year, Decker said.   
The two cuts from the government totals up to $3 million, she said.  
Additionally, TUSD attendance has decreased by 0.5 percent cutting about $825,000 from the district funding.
The committee will meet next at 4 p.m. Feb. 1 in the Turlock High School library.   
To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail mmartens@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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