By Maureen Robertson
Facing another year of deficit spending and projected shortfalls of $1.4 million next year and $9.4 million in 2013-14, Ramona Unified School District trustees approved final layoff notices for 25 teachers, saying state law and labor agreements force them to vote now.
“It’s wrong, the way the state has it set up,” Trustee Bob Stoody said at the May 8 meeting, adding that he hopes “each person who gets a pink slip realizes that we’re going to do everything we can to withdraw that.”
All of the pink slips go to elementary teachers, said Assistant Superintendent Anne Staffieri.
Declining enrollment, less revenue, the state’s fiscal crisis, increased health benefit costs, and no projected “silver bullets” are among reasons for the district’s budget uncertainties, according to its third interim financial report.
This is the district’s third year of deficit spending, Assistant Superintendent David Ostermann said. While the district will end the 2011-12 year June 30 with an anticipated balance of $4.2 million, its expenses are $4.9 million more than its income, according to the report.
Layoffs, elimination of jobs when people retire or resign, spending cuts, three unpaid furlough days for support staff and administrative employees, and moving money from budget categories such as adult education and maintenance into the general fund are among techniques the district has used to bolster its ending balance. Despite that, unless something changes, it will have to borrow money to meet its 2012-13 fiscal obligations, states the report.
In 2013-14, it will not have enough cash to meet its obligations and it will be unable to borrow the money needed, said Ostermann.
“These agencies are only going to loan you so much cash,” he said. “Part of that is based on how much are you going to bring in, how much can you pay that back....If you can’t pay the loan back, we’re not going to lend you the money. So that’s the fear with the current situation.”
The assumptions are based on the governor’s proposed tax initiative on the November ballot not passing, said Ostermann.
“With current projections, RUSD is one step away from a negative certification, when a district is unable to meet its obligations,” he said.
Eleven of the 42 school districts in the county self-qualified that they are uncertain they will meet their fiscal requirements, Superintendent Robert Graeff said, but he is uncertain how many of those anticipate a negative certification.
Trustee Dawn Perfect, saying Poway school district isn’t laying off employees this year, asked why.
“Different strategies,” responded Trustee Rodger Dohm, who teaches in Poway.
Poway’s strategy was to “take cuts early on and continue to take cuts for about three years,” said Dohm. “That has deferred the major disaster that could have been in Poway. It is not occurring.”
Between 10 furlough days and pay cuts, Dohm’s salary is $10,000 less than it was three years ago. Add to that additional money he earned on other assignments and teaching night classes, his total cut has been $20,000, he said.
“So it’s just one strategy,” he said. “Does it work? Absolutely it worked.”
Later in the meeting, the board heard other ideas.
Ramona Teachers Association President Donna Braye-Romero criticized the board for not reducing the number of teachers receiving pink slips. Since its original calculations, the district learned that 10 more teachers are retiring, and it projects higher class sizes, she said. Based on that, she believes layoff notices to six or seven teachers are unnecessary.
“And so I’m asking you today, as the RTA president, wearing pink in support of my pink-slipped teachers, that you consider that,” she said.
“The elephant in the room is the administration that is grossly overpaid and way too big,” said Ramona resident Dave Patterson.
Laying off the lowest paid employees while administrators make obscene salaries is not acceptable, he said.
“From here, it looks like a ship adrift, so I’m here tonight to ask the board to take some bold and fast action,” he said.
Students need three things for a good education, said Patterson: Good teachers, janitors to keep their rooms clean, and cooks to feed them.
“Everybody else in this district should be considered non-vital,” he said.
He suggested eliminating the highest paid administrators, cutting administrators’ salaries one-third — “nothing personal to the administrators” — and, “if you need to get rid of teachers, get rid of the bad teachers.”
Ashley Butler, one of the teachers receiving a pink slip, said, “Layoffs is not the answer to your budget issue.”
RTA’s negotiating team doesn’t represent all of the teachers, because some teachers are willing to take furlough days, she said.
“There’s only four people on that negotiating team. None of them has been given a pink slip, and it’s not affecting them,” said Butler, a fourth-grade teacher at Hanson Elementary for the past five years. “It’s affecting us. We’re the ones being laid off.”
She encouraged the district to “impose those furlough days” or offer retirement incentives to teachers unwilling to make a concession.
The district in March declared negotiations with RTA at an impasse, and a Public Employment Relations Board mediator is working with both sides to resolve the matter.
As a laid-off tenured teacher, Butler said, she must be among the first teachers called to substitute and for the next three years the district must pay her the daily rate she receives now.
“You’re laying off people that are tenured,” she said. “...It’s not really saving you that much money in the long run.”
“I don’t think there’s anybody on this board that desires to cut teachers at all,” said Dohm. “...You saw the report today. It is real. This is what the state has dealt us, and this is what we have to work with.”
Some of the teachers receiving pink slips are among the district’s best, he added.
“But it’s based on seniority and the law dictates what we can and cannot do,” he said.
“It is just a stinking shame to have to take an action like this,” agreed Perfect.
“Our hands are tied on this,” said Trustee Kim Lasley. “We have to do it this way. Do we want to? No.”