Teachers will teach. Students will learn. School life will go on despite deep budget cuts and dire predictions.
But there will be changes as the academic year begins this week for the majority of students.
Corners have been cut. Employees are gone. In every buzzing classroom, there are clues that money is low and pressure to perform is high.
For one thing, youngsters will be sitting a little closer this year. The Ceres Unified School District has kept classes to 23 for younger students, but in Modesto's Sylvan Union District, 30 to 32 kindergartners will be squirming on every rug. That's up from 24 to 25 last year and an average of 20 for grades K-3 in 2009-10.
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"I think what parents will notice at Back to School (Night) is a few more parents in the room," said Sylvan administrator Randy Klinkefus.
Bigger classes allowed the district to run with fewer teachers and custodians, Klinkefus said.
"Fewer classrooms to clean," he said.
Volunteers are stepping in to fill some of the gaps.
At Woodrow Elementary in Modesto, Principal Vicki Briscoe said one of the teachers persuaded a church, the North Modesto Church of God, to "adopt" the campus. Church members helped ready classrooms, plant flowers and sort paperwork. They'll come back throughout the school year to read with children and help in classrooms.
"That's something new for us," Briscoe said.
Another change at Sylvan is the schedule. The district is moving away from year-round classes, Klinkefus said. For 2011-12, the district schedule will more closely resemble that of Modesto City Schools, where Sylvan students attend high school.
"The important thing for kids is their friends and the classes," Klinkefus said. "Kids love school. It's exciting."
In Ceres, where teachers agreed to an 8.5 percent pay cut, classes in primary grades will hold at 23, administrator Jay Simmonds said. According to the teacher contract, fourth- through eighth-grade numbers may rise by one student, to 31 per class.
Turlock tried to keep the cuts away from children; class sizes there also will grow by only one student, Superintendent Sonny daMarto said. The district tried to trim expenses elsewhere, including pay cuts for administrators and district staff.
Early-grade Modesto classes will be larger as well, said Modesto Teachers Association Executive Director Barney Hale. Children in all grades will be going on fewer field trips, he said. Even if money weren't tight, there just isn't time in the jam-packed school calendar for them.
"It's not the cost," Hale said. "There are very few field trips because they don't want to give up the days."
Modesto City Schools laid off 91 employees, most of them teachers and counselors. But other jobs also have been lost over the past couple of years, through attrition and layoffs.
Students may notice some of the custodians who kept the bathrooms tidy are gone, as are the library assistants who helped them find books, said Aaron Castro, president of Modesto's classified employees union. Familiar faces won't be manning the lunch line, he said, and school bus stops will be farther away because of classified staff reductions.
Fewer campus supervisors will be keeping an eye on junior high and high school students, Castro said. There will be fewer clerks to fulfill more reporting requirements.
"Most wear the hats of nurse, counselor, parent and office staff," he said in an e-mail.
'Erosion' in sports
Hale said music and sports programs will be affected. The Modesto district didn't replace music teachers who left, and coaching stipends have been lowered by 40 percent.
"I think we'll be seeing an erosion of the sports programs," Hale said.
Schools in Modesto, Sylvan, Salida, Oakdale and Denair districts will have five fewer days of school this year. Modesto students will get a three-week holiday this winter, from Dec. 18 through Jan. 9.
The Turlock district is negotiating with its teachers unions, but the school board has stood firm against cutting any days from the academic calendar. Assuming the district and unions can agree -- and that the state budget doesn't include any surprises -- daMarto said the upcoming school year should be relatively smooth.
After that, though, uncertainty hangs heavy. The Turlock district likely will have to make $3 million more in cuts for the 2011-12 school year and in 2012-13.
"It's still looking pretty grim for us," daMarto said.
Sylvan Superintendent John Halverson offered a similar outlook earlier this month when he said, "We're still not at our big year, the year where we fall off the cliff."
In the next two years, the district will have to look at big cuts from its $55 million budget, and likely won't have federal stimulus funds and other money to fill the gap.
Still, teachers and staff were on campuses last week, putting up bulletin boards and preparing Back to School Night packets.
Karen Hough was readying for her 36th year in teaching. The kindergarten teacher at Woodrow Elementary has seen it all before.
"Years ago, I had 40 (students)," she said. "You just keep going and do the best you can."
She and the other teachers at Woodrow returned to campus after the district closed it for several weeks this summer. That's another change.
"They shut us down over winter break as an experiment," said Briscoe, the principal. The district saved enough in utility costs to make it worth trying over the summer.
"We had some teachers who tried to come in and work in the dark, but it didn't work very well," she said.
Briscoe said people at her school are there because they love what they do. Budget cuts and increased demands can take a toll, but they don't change the basic goal of teachers, administrators and staff.
"We all squawk sometimes at all the politics," Briscoe said. "But when the kids come through the door, we're all pretty excited."
Bee staff writer Nan Austin
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