Preliminary layoffs affect 22 teaching jobs
Other workers agree to three furlough days
By Maureen Robertson
Ramona school trustees have been told to prepare for the worst, and that’s what they’re doing. As one of seven school districts in the county on the state’s “qualified” list, Ramona Unified, based on budget projections, will not be able to pay all of its bills starting next year.
“The deep cuts made to school funding—and looming uncertainties about the future—are driving school districts to the brink of insolvency,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said last week.
Following the county Office of Education directive to prepare a budget with the assumption that proposed tax hikes on the November ballot will not pass, Asst. Supt. David Ostermann said the district has a projected deficit of $6.5 million for 2012-13.
In January, the trustees voted to lay off 15 people working in non-teaching jobs; last month they directed district administrators to bring them proposals to reduce staff, including teachers and support workers, and to reduce or eliminate home-to-school transportation. Special education students would not be affected.
In a special meeting on Monday, trustees approved recommendations to give preliminary layoff notices to 28 teachers. State law requires school districts to give preliminary notices to teachers by March 15 and final notices by May 15.
As a result of attrition, the proposed layoffs affect 22 jobs, including the three elementary vocal music teachers, 15.49 elementary teachers, two elementary special education jobs that are vacant, a speech therapist job that is vacant, three teachers on assignment who work in the district office, five part-time Title 1 employees and two early-start kindergarten teachers.
In recent years, most teachers receiving layoff notices returned to the classroom after the state’s final budget was approved.
“We’re in a whole different ball game this year,” said Lezlie Mitchell, first-grade teacher at Barnett Elementary, who attended the meeting to support fellow first-grade teacher Jeana Utech, who anticipates receiving her fourth preliminary layoff notice in her five years with the district.
Ostermann at recent school board meetings has said that additional money that districts have received from the state and federal governments in past years is not expected in the 2012-13 fiscal year that will start July 1.
Trustees on Monday also ratified an agreement with the district’s 246 support staff in the Ramona chapter of the California School Employees Association (CSEA). The agreement calls for the workers to take three unpaid furlough days before June 30. The agreement is expected to save the district $121,372 this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Superintendent Robert Graeff said members of the district’s management team have agreed to do the same and details will be brought to the March 13 board meeting.
If the Ramona Teachers Association (RTA) agrees to take three unpaid furlough days, schools will be closed on April 10, May 24 and May 25. If RTA does not take the furlough days, CSEA and Administrative Leadership Team members will arrange with their supervisor to take three unpaid days off before June 30.
In a 67-34 vote, CSEA members ratified the agreement last Friday afternoon, said Jim King, Ramona CSEA president.
King was among an estimated 45 people who attended the Feb. 27 special meeting. In addition to reporting that CSEA had ratified the agreement, “I also wanted to be here tonight to let you know that CSEA’s not at all happy with their decision,” he said. “Once again, we’re being asked to take more hits on top of more hits and again it’s always the classified.”
Board members say they want to keep cuts away from the classroom, he said, “but your whole agenda tonight affects the classroom, not just with the classified, but with the teachers...You’re elected in this town to make the hard decisions, not go after the easy targets, so let’s work a little harder on looking for ways to cut.”
Two parents, a music teacher and the speech-language pathologist at James Dukes Elementary spoke against eliminating the vocal music program at the elementary schools.
Graeff posed two questions to Asst. Supt. Anne Staffieri:
•If the board approves the preliminary layoffs, does that mean the teachers would lose their jobs? Is it a certainty?
‘No...this action just makes sure that the March 15 deadline, statutory requirements, would be met,”
•Is there an opportunity for the board to reduce this number to a smaller number, even to zero?
“Absolutely possible, yes,” said Staffieri.
Reduced funding and the projected 12th year of declining student enrollment continue to challenge the district, she noted. The proposed layoffs are projected to save the district about $1.24 million annually.
Trustee Rodger Dohm said that in the past three years the district has cut $7 million from the budget.
“That’s a huge amount of money, and we still have to reduce $11.6 million (in the next two years),” he said. “...This is really bad. We really don’t have a lot of choice.”
And, he added, “this is just the beginning of what we’re going to have to do. This is not the end.”
If the district doesn’t cut, “the state could come in and take over the school district,” said Dohm.
“Maybe that wouldn’t be a bad idea,” a female voice in the audience said.
Board President Dan Lopez expressed concern about class size and said, “I don’t want to see upper grades (4-6) go up because of this. I think they’re at their max.”
The trustees thanked those who came to the meeting and encouraged them to come to future meetings to hear complete budget reports.