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School employees voice concerns for job security
Turlock Unified School District bus drivers wear red to show solidarity for their concern about potential cuts in the transportation department. They addressed the board of trustees about their job security concerns at Tuesday’s meeting. - photo by MAEGAN MARTENS / The Journal
Over 75 people shared one thing in common at Tuesday’s Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting: Fear. They were all there to hear about the budget cuts soon to come and how it would affect them.
“I am scared people might lose their jobs,” said Yolanda Riviera, third grade teacher at Cunningham Elementary School. “We are all here because we want them to know that we are concerned.”
The board will have to decide by their March 2 meeting if their solutions to the budget crisis will involve pink slips, as the district has to notify teachers by March 15 if their job is in jeopardy for the next school year.  
Turlock Teachers Association President Julie Shipman announced at Tuesday’s meeting that the TTA will not negotiate with the school board earlier than March 1, giving the district only one day to determine solutions for budget cuts regarding personnel layoffs.  
“I am hopeful that we can do negotiations as soon as possible,” said John Sims, TUSD trustee.
Other district employees concerned about their jobs were the transportation department, who showed up en mass and wearing bright red clothing.
“We feel our jobs are viable in the education of our students,” said Monica Jackson, TUSD transportation supervisor.
The transportation department, which currently serves 2,009 students, has saved a minimum of $88,000 by reducing hours, according to Jackson.  
“We are facing a serious budget crisis, but we will get through it like we did last year,” said Frank Lima, TUSD president, reassuring the worried district employees in attendance.
The Turlock Unified School District budget advisory committee decided on two recommendations on Monday to help ease the potential $3.9 million being cut from district funding for the 2010/2011 school year. While the options they chose could see a savings of over $3 million for the district, more cuts would need to be made to balance the budget.   
The number one recommendation the budget committee is making to the board of trustees is to reallocate a portion of the Medi-Cal Administrative Services funding, totaling $2.3 million, that the school district receives every year. School districts are reimbursed for the federal share (50 percent) of certain costs for administering the Medi-Cal program. Those activities include:  Outreach and referral, facilitating the Medi-Cal application, arranging non-emergency/non medical transportation, program planning and policy development, and claims coordination. Typically, the money — which is an unrestricted funding source — goes to the school sites where it was generated, but the committee’s recommendation is to take $1.9 million of that $2.3 million and use it to balance out the district’s budget. About $400,000 will be allocated to the school sites through this recommendation.
The second recommendation is to have all employees take a pay freeze, which would be subject to negotiations. This could save the district $1.15 million.
The two recommendations total $3.05 million in possible savings, which falls short of the expected $3.9 million in cuts.
Committee members will have to come up with more suggestions to fill the gap in the district’s budget and prepare for union negotiations falling through, said Sonny Da Marto, TUSD superintendent.
Budget advisory committee members expressed their desire to find solutions which affected the least number of children when reporting their suggestions during Monday night’s public meeting.
“I feel like we need to keep the cuts far away from the children,” said Diane Springer, budget advisory committee member. “We need to do these things to provide the students with the best education possible.”
Turlock Junior High Principal Dave Kline said that saving jobs and keeping cuts away from the children, were the priorities community members had shared with him.
Budget advisory committee members expressed trepidation in recommending pay freezes for the school employees, but supported them anyway.
Turlock High principal Dana Trevethan reassured the committee members that she has heard nothing but positive feedback about this recommendation.
“They are already used to living off of what they make now,” she said. “They have adjusted. There has been overwhelming positive feedback. This is an option people are seriously willing to take.”
All suggestions by the budget advisory committee will be made to the board of trustees, who have the final say in where the cuts will be made.
Discussion of other recommendations, including eliminating the cash out option for employees with their health cap, was tabled until the next meeting.
Currently, district employees can cash out money from their health cap if they do not use that money for insurance purposes. With this recommendation, employees would not be able to cash out money not used for insurance purposes. This recommendation would save the district a potential of $1.9 million, but there could be complications.
“The amount of money in savings from this could evaporate,” said Lori Decker, TUSD chief financial officer. “The people could use all money so they don’t lose the money.”
The next budget advisory committee meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Monday in the Turlock High School library.
To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.