Federal stimulus money, hiring freezes and pay cuts appear to have stanched widespread layoffs of classified employees at Stanislaus County schools, but the cuts might not be over.
Although layoffs of bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, library aides, secretaries and teacher aides have been minimal, the ranks of classified employees have shrunk over the past few years as vacant positions have been frozen or eliminated.
School districts are struggling to approve spending plans for the 2009-10 budget year, which starts July 1, because of the state's enormous deficit.
"We have plans A, B and C. (The state budget is) a rapidly moving, dodging target," said Bob Price, superintendent of the Empire Union School District.
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County Office of Education Assistant Superintendent of Business Don Gatti put it this way: "It's impossible to plan in this environment."
And the turmoil is not over as state legislators grapple with a growing budget deficit -- most recently pegged at $24 billion -- after statewide ballot measures designed to help stop the hemorrhaging were voted down in May. Educators are bracing this summer for a third wave of budget cuts in two years.
For example, Modesto City Schools officials cut about $11 million in spending during budget deliberations last spring, an additional $11 million this spring and might need to shed $10 million during the 2009-10 budget year.
Classified employees were to be notified by mid-May if officials planned to lay them off for the 2009-10 school year. For the most part, school districts were able to keep layoffs to a minimum through retirements, resignations and negotiating a shorter work year and-or pay cuts with classified employee unions.
3 percent pay cut in Turlock
Classified employees at the Turlock Unified School District agreed to a 3 percent cut in pay through salary reductions and-or furloughs. The move cut $686,000 from the district's budget and spared layoffs, said Janet Pohl- DeMello, district spokeswoman.
Ten of 200 classified positions were on the chopping block at the 4,500-student Patterson Unified School District, but three layoff notices were rescinded, said Phil Alfano, head of human resources. Officials are trying to reduce spending on overtime and substitutes. Those efforts have saved $25,000, Alfano said.
With last month's failure of the statewide ballot measures, school districts expect less money from the state.
"There will be more discussions. There are so many unknowns still, but we believe we won't have to issue any additional layoffs," Alfano said.
Out of 150 classified employees, nearly 30 received layoff notices in the Empire Union School District, but most of those were because of the closure of Teel Middle School for this fall, said Price, the district superintendent. Officials are negotiating furlough days with the classified union to try to rehire some of those people, he said.
Many districts are planning on federal stimulus funds to cover any additional shortfalls from the state. Ceres Unified School District officials estimate losing $5 million to $6 million from the 2008-09 and 2009-10 budgets, but might get $6 million in stimulus money, said Scott Siegel, head of business serv-ices.
"It might backfill the cuts coming, but what about 2010-11? There will be no stimulus," he said.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.