Local schools bracing for budget cuts
By Bret Bradigan
Courtesy of declining enrollment and a
growing state budget gap, it's nearly certain that as many as
13, and perhaps more, teachers at Ojai Unified School District
will get pink slips by March 15.
Local elementary schools are projected to lose five teaching
positions, plus two at Matilija Junior High School and one at
Nordhoff High School. Factor in five teachers who have announced
their intent to return from leaves of absence, and it's doubtful
the district can make up the difference through retirement, relocations
or other forms of attrition.
The district is wrestling with California Gov. Gray Davis' mid-year
budget reductions, which will cost $580,000. They are also dealing
with Davis' January message, in which he outlined his proposal
to close the state's two-year, $35 billion deficit with a range
of cuts, which, for the schools, include eliminating cost of
living increases and a 10.8 percent cut in most programs.
According to an analysis by School Services of California, Inc,.
"This year, more than any in memory, virtually everything
is open to negotiation - except the bottom line." The group
estimates the budget cuts will cost California schools between
$5.4 billion and $6 billion over the next 18 months.
Assistant Superintendent Jim Berube said the budget picture will
begin to clear after Jan. 31, when the state legislature comes
out with its counteroffer from the special session and budget
horse trading begins in earnest. The governor will then issue
his budget revisions in May, and, it is planned, but given the
scope of the deficit, doubtful, that the state will pass its
budget in June.
The local budgeting process has already begun. Ojai Unified School
District's "cabinet" of administrators, including Berube,
Superintendent Van Riley, Assistant Superintendent Tim Baird,
Finance Officer Danielle Pusatere, Meiners Oaks Principal Marty
Babayco, and Assistant Superintendent Jarice Butterfieldd, has
already begun meeting. Berube says they work "on the big
picture," before forwarding suggestions and recommendations
to the district's leadership team, which includes all principals,
as well as representatives from Ojai Federation of Teachers and
the California Service Employees Association.
Other obstacles to negotiate this year, besides the dire forecasts
from Sacramento, are the payroll hikes that come with automatic
step and column increases given to employees, as well as steep
increases in health insurance costs, estimated at 15 percent
of the $8,300 benefits package paid to fulltime employees.
Berube estimated the built-in increases to the budget at 4 to
The district, must, by law, pass a balanced budget by the final
meeting of the board in June, which is scheduled for June 24.
By no means, though, is that likely to be the last word, as the
district will more than likely need to make further adjustments
after the school year begins in August.
It will be difficult to balance the budget without some cuts
in staffing levels, if not staff members, as "it is hoped"
that attribution will reduce the district's payroll costs. Salary,
wages and benefits run up to about 85 percent of the district's
costs, leaving that 15 percent for classroom materials, transportation,
training, building and grounds, and all other expenses of the
$25 million annual budget.
"Our goal is to keep everyone employed," Berube said,
"but we have to be flexible." For instance, staff members
may shift from one school to another, from one job to another.
"They may be doing an entirely different job one year from
One innovative approach in Davis' budget is to take 64 different
programs, package them together, and give the money to the school
districts to do with what they please. The block grant would
total about $5.1 billion statewide, or about $3.25 million for
Ojai's 3,954 students. This plan is guaranteed to endanger plenty
of controversy, though Berube acknowledged it has many benefits,
flexibility being chief among them.
"I'm tired of the restrictions being placed on the money,"
he said. "It does give the district more control."
The Ojai Valley News
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