Teachers and parents implored the Modesto City Schools Board of Education to hold off on delivering hundreds of layoff notices to teachers and staff, but elected trustees voted Monday to send the warnings as they prepare severe budget cuts for the next academic year.
The board voted 6-1 to begin layoff proceedings for more than 300 teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians, setting up negotiations with employee unions.
Trustees said they hoped the unions would agree to take salary cuts and unpaid furlough days to save jobs and programs such as small class sizes.
Trustees also approved sending out 49 layoff notices to certificated managers, representing all employees in that category except school principals and top-level administrators, who work on individual contracts.
Most parents and community members who have spoken at budget forums and in online surveys have asked that cuts stay away from classrooms. Teachers, parents and a student said Monday the layoff notices run counter to the direction trustees received from the public.
Modesto High School junior Jasmine Martinez urged trustees to keep teachers. She said her classes already are packed with 35 to 40 students and that it's hard to walk along narrow aisles between desks and chairs.
A middle school physical education teacher voiced her concern over increasing class sizes. She teaches classes of 58 students and said most of her time is spent on managing behavior and picking and choosing battles.
"I urge you to consider the domino effect these layoffs will create," she said.
The reduction in school nursing ranks would leave five nursing positions left for the district's 34 schools.
Modesto City Schools officials must cut spending by $25 million, but some worry that figure could approach $35 million in May, when Gov. Schwarzenegger releases revised funding numbers for the 2010-11 year.
Trustee Gary Lopez stressed that the board was approving notices of possible layoffs, not actual pink slips. The notices must go out before March 15, with pink slips being handed out May 15.
"I don't think we'll be laying off 300 teachers. I don't think that it will be anywhere near that," he said.
Trustee Ruben Villalobos was the dissenting vote on the layoff items.
"I'm prepared to make tough decisions, but only when I feel like we've exhausted all our options and listened to the community. ... I think we can do better," he said to applause from the audience, mostly teachers.
School boards across the state will be discussing employee layoffs over the next few weeks. For instance, the San Francisco Unified School District -- which enrolls nearly twice the number of students as Modesto City Schools -- plans to hand out 900 layoff warnings.
Almost 50 of the 325 Modesto layoff warnings are for teachers and counselors funded through special offerings, such as the Regional Occupational Program that focuses on vocational education.
For coming years, state funding earmarked for these special programs can be diverted to school districts' bottom lines to cushion spending cuts.
Modesto City Schools trustees haven't decided which of those funds should be transferred to the general fund.
Also Monday, trustees agreed to look for a consultant for a board governance workshop to help them work together more effectively and with Superintendent Arturo Flores.
Trustees want a volunteer to lead the discussion so they can host a workshop at no cost to the district.
The board's published agenda listed the cost of a consultant's contract as up to $25,000 -- a sum that teachers said was not justified while the district is considering layoffs.
Lopez agreed, saying trustees should pay the cost themselves.
In other business, the board promoted curriculum director Randy Fillpot to associate superintendent. He has filled in at that position for the past few months since Daisy Lee left the district for a new job. Fillpot will earn $143,000 a year.
The board continued to meet late Monday and at The Bee's deadline was discussing whether to hire a consultant to survey voters on whether they'd support a parcel tax for education. That contract could cost $20,000 to $45,000.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.
Read Hatfield's education blog at http://thehive.modbee.com/ExtraCredit.