Layoffs avoided at Turlock Unified

TURLOCK — The Turlock Unified School District this week adopted a budget that — barring further state cuts — will prevent layoffs through the 2010-11 school year.

"Everybody was pretty pleased," Superintendent Sonny DaMarto said about Tuesday's vote by the district's board of trustees. "We've made some tough choices, but all of our staff pulled together and took part of the pain."

Other school districts in the area, from Keyes to Modesto, have laid off staff or are planning to do so because of declining enrollment and massive cutbacks in state funding. Some also have cut back drastically or eliminated programs such as music and art.

Turlock has cut $12 million over the past two years through golden-handshake retirement agreements, districtwide salary reductions and other measures. The district also used reserves and federal stimulus money to fill some of the holes left by the state.

Though the situation is far from ideal, DaMarto said district officials feel they have done everything they can to keep budget cuts away from students.

The Stanislaus County Office of Education, which reviews district budgets, approved Turlock's last month. Four other districts — Modesto City Schools, Keyes Union, La Grange and Roberts Ferry — got conditional approval, meaning they have been put on notice that their finances are seriously out of balance.

In approving Turlock's budget, however, SCOE Assistant Superintendent Don Gatti noted that its strategy of using reserves and stimulus money won't be effective in the long term.

"At this time, your reserves are sufficient to cover the (budget) reduction but should be monitored closely and not be allowed to continue," Gatti said in a memo to school district Chief Financial Officer Lori Decker. He said his office will review the Turlock district's budget again when the stimulus money runs out.

What remains to be seen is what the state decides to do in January, when Gov. Schwarzenegger issues his budget revision, and June, when the state adopts the budget.

"All in all, barring any big reductions that are introduced in January or adopted by the state in June — if they adopt a budget in June — we should be fine for 2010-11," DaMarto said. "We're going to have to continue with our ongoing cuts we've made in the last two years, ... but at least people will have a job and there will be no further reductions."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or 578-2343.