Blame the state for funding shortfalls.
That's basically what Modesto City Schools' staff did Monday in explaining why trustees had no choice but to adopt a budget that dips into reserves, cuts salaries, lays off employees, raises class sizes and reduces school days.
"It is staggering the amount of dollars we are owed by the state of California," said Julie Chapin, the district's director of business services.
Chapin detailed how the state "rightfully owes us over $100 million." That's how much more the district should have received since 2008 had the state not applied various "revenue-limit-deficit factors" to reduce school allocations.
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Had Modesto City Schools been fully funded and received all the cost-of-living adjustments it was supposed to get, Chapin said it wouldn't have had to lay off employees or slice salaries.
But California's budget-strapped government doesn't have the tax revenue needed to fully fund what school districts calculate they are entitled to receive. Because of the recession, the state started reducing allocations two years ago, and it continues to tighten funding for the 2010-11 school year.
Chapin displayed charts showing how Modesto City Schools' revenues will be about 22 percent lower than they should be.
"Cash in the bank is going to be very tight," said Chapin, noting how the state plans to defer funding distributions by pushing back when it deposits tax revenues into school district accounts. She warned that more bad budget news may come later this year as the state continues to adjust allocations.
Until that happens, trustees unanimously agreed to the district's proposed $238.6 million spending plan.
That budget includes spending more than $13 million of the district's reserves.
To pare costs, the schools will raise class sizes so fewer teachers are needed. The district also has declining enrollment, which means even fewer teachers are required.
After retirements and resignations were factored in, Modesto City Schools ended up eliminating 86 full-time teaching and counseling positions. That resulted in 91 employees being laid off.
The district also eliminated eight certificated administrative positions, but none of the current administrators lost their jobs. That's because so many managers retired or otherwise left that attrition covered all the reductions.
The fact that no administrators were laid off outraged leaders of the Modesto Teachers Association. Teachers were promised managers would take their fair share of cuts, but that was a misrepresentation, charged Keith Herring, an MTA vice president.
"Hold the administration accountable for that promise," Herring urged trustees.
Managers objected to the assertion they didn't take their share of cuts. They said they took larger pay cuts than teachers, which enabled more of their jobs to be saved.