District-wide salary and benefits could be on the chopping block when the Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees produces its final budget in June.
On Tuesday, the TUSD Budget Advisory Committee presented the board with its list of six proposed cuts, totaling $4.9 million dollars.
The cuts only needed to total about $3 million for the district to avoid large-scale layoffs and even more dramatic budget cuts. TUSD is anticipating a loss of $4.3 million in revenue should Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed tax extensions fail to be passed by voters. The additional $1.3 million would be absorbed by TUSD’s reserve fund of about $14 million.
The Budget Committee’s largest budget recommendation was a salary reduction of up to 3 percent for all district employees, which would save nearly $2.3 million, followed by the elimination of cash out plans on health insurance caps for all employees.
TUSD Chief Financial Officer Lori Decker explained the health cap.
“Every employee gets a set amount of money, for teachers it is $4,606. Out of that $4,606 a teacher is required to take dental and vision benefits, but teachers are not required to take medical. If they chose to take medical they have a cap of $383 a month ($4,606 divided by 12) that the district will pay. If the teacher gets health insurance somewhere else they receive that money in their paycheck,” she said.
The plan to slash health caps for all TUSD employees would save the district $1.5 million.
In addition to the cap, the committee recommended freezing step increases for all employees, which would save $850,000. These salary and benefit reductions or freezes would have to go to the bargaining table with the teachers and classified employees unions.
Another recommendation included the elimination of school resource officers. Pitman and Turlock high schools each have one police officer on campus, but under the cuts neither would have any, saving TUSD $197,000.
Lastly, the committee recommended the school district charge fees for athletics and extra-curricular activities district wide in grades 7-12. Charging for transportation fees is legal only if TUSD does not restrict access to students who cannot afford to pay.
“It is certainly difficult for anyone to make cuts that affect people’s paychecks; any cuts that are recommended are spread evenly across the district. This is a new normal, that is this is something that would fundamentally change the balance sheets for the district far into the future, “ said Budget Committee President Barney Gordon.
Turlock Teachers Association President Julie Shipman 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.
TUSD Board President Frank Lima cautioned that the district, while maintaining a healthy reserve fund of about $14 million, still needs to remain vigilantly frugal.
“This problem is systemic and it’s serious. This is far deeper than just getting rid of freshman sports or cutting music. Even if voters pass the tax extensions, some cuts will still have to be made, they just won’t be as severe. This district is deficit spending by $3 million a year and if we don’t stop we’re going to become insolvent, that’s the bottom line.”
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