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School district dealing with Sacramento failures

POSTED April 1, 2011 9:04 p.m.

After months of trying to work out problems with legislative Republicans, Gov. Jerry Brown called off budget negotiations on Tuesday.

The breakdown between Democrats and Republicans in Sacramento sinks the possibility of a June ballot measure for tax extensions that could have significantly lessened the blow to school district budgets across the state, including the Turlock Unified School District (TUSD).

In order for Brown’s proposed vehicle, sales and income tax extensions to have reached voters for a special election in June, senate Democrats would have had to pass the budget with a majority vote.

Fortunately for TUSD, budget plans were made expecting the worst, with the hope for the best — a voter approved tax extension.

Last month the TUSD Budget Advisory Committee recommended to the Board of Trustees $4.9 million worth of budget cuts, the largest including a 3 percent salary reduction for all TUSD employees and the elimination of cash out plans on health insurance caps for all employees. Those two cuts combined would slash $3.8 million. Both cuts are subject to negotiations with the teacher and school employee unions.

The committee’s recommendation of $4.9 million in cuts was larger than the district’s anticipated loss of $4.3 million in revenue, in order to give the board more options.

Unlike many other districts in California, TUSD is not broken and teacher layoffs have been avoided. 

“Fortunately, due to the hard work of our administrators, the district budget office and the salary and benefit concessions made by all of the TUSD employees over the last two years, and the discipline and foresight of prior boards, TUSD maintains a good reserve that most school districts currently lack.  TUSD has used, and with board approval, will continue to use our reserve to get us through this budget crisis.  However, TUSD will probably continue to make cuts because we can never allow for even the threat of insolvency,” wrote Frank Lima, Board of Trustees president.

On Tuesday the board will hear an update report from TUSD chief financial officer Lori Decker. The board is scheduled to have closed-session negotiations with the Turlock Teacher’s Association and school employee unions that same day.

 “TUSD has avoided a single budget-related layoff over the last two years and has maintained adequate reserve levels augmented by one-time funds from the federal government.  Through this process, TUSD must continue to offer sound academic instruction and educational opportunities for our youth and the betterment of our community,” wrote Lima.

Turlock Teachers Association President Julie Shipman had previously said she would recommend the board look closer at a previous recommendation of reducing the school year by five days, but she hoped it would all be a moot point.

“We hope none of this happens, we are crossing our fingers the tax extension passes,” she said. Unfortunately, the tax extension is highly unlikely to come to fruition and negotiations will begin.  

“Any cuts that become the ‘new normal’ should be as far away from the classroom as possible.  Since we no longer have year round school, all school sites close for part of the summer.  I believe the district offices could also close on Fridays during the summer or for part of the summer,” Shipman said.

Shipman added another suggestion for cuts, “the board should take back the mileage stipends which they put onto the salary schedules of all administrators and managers, and have them turn in mileage reimbursement forms for mileage actually incurred. The board added $2,000-$4,000 to each salary. Fifty-seven employees receive mileage stipends; add to that the fact that we now have to pay more towards their retirement since their salaries have all increased.”The board is scheduled to make budget cut decisions later this month. TUSD officials will undoubtedly have a headache dealing with Sacramento failures to govern in a timely fashion. The budget impasse in Sacramento creates a terrible problem for TUSD because once again we’re compelled to approve a budget and make personnel decisions without any certainty as to the ultimate funding TUSD will receive from the state for the 2011-2010 academic year. This year there appears to be even less consensus and more uncertainty between the governor and the legislature which makes it more difficult for TUSD to rely on the governor’s proposed budget.  Like a business, in order to make good decisions, we need certainty, but certainty is totally lacking with respect to the state budget this year,” wrote Lima.  To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail jmccorkell@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.
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