Atwater district's budget plan wipes out reserve

Cuts in pay are still a possibility in its 2009-2010 proposal.

06/26/2009 2:32 AM

10/19/2009 10:52 AM

ATWATER -- Disheartened employees in the Atwater Elementary School District learned Thursday night that the school system is financially hanging by a thread and cuts to employee pay could continue.

In presenting its 2009-2010 budget plan, the district revealed that it would deficit spend over the next few years, dwindling a $1.7 million general fund balance in 2009-2010 to $66,293 in 2011-2012.

Assistant Superintendent Marisa Ploog said even those numbers were shaky. She pointed out that the state's still cutting from the 2008-2009 fiscal year, which ends Tuesday, and sources in Sacramento were telling districts already to brace for mid-year cuts in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

Later in the meeting, the board voted on two resolutions that could cut employee pay, Assistant Superintendent David Diaz Duran said.

In two 4-0 votes, the board decided to open an initial collective bargaining proposal with the classified employees union to negotiate wages, benefits and retirement incentives; and passed a resolution reserving the right to reduce 2009-2010 compensation for all employees.

The proposal before the board did not specify how cuts would be dealt.

The board also voted to begin collective bargaining with the Atwater Elementary Teachers Association to negotiate: hours, class size, retiree benefits, compensation, the contract term, and other issues.

Employee salaries and benefits for the district are $27.6 million, or 84.23 percent of the district's total expenditure budget.

Next year's budget includes scheduled yearly salary increases.

The California School Employees Association said the proposal violated rules of the Education Code, while the district said they were within the law in reserving their right to discuss the possibility of pay cuts.

The Atwater Elementary School District has experienced a loss of revenue of $8 million over the past two years. In an attempt to balance the budget over the winter months, the district cut 54 jobs, decreased health care benefit eligibility, eliminated deferred maintenance funding, and cuts to several other areas.

Superintendent Melinda Hennes closed the meeting with this statement: "It is our goal to bring back all of our employees. We look forward to the economic recovery of the state of California and a brighter future."

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dgaines@mercedsun-star.com.

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