Salary reductions of about 16 percent were proposed Wednesday by Modesto City Schools trustees as they began what undoubtedly will be tough negotiations with the district's employee unions.
The initial bargaining proposals were greeted with dismay by employees, especially because the schools started handing out 370 layoff notices to teachers Wednesday.
Trustees also voted to issue layoff warnings to 67 managers, and they're expected to hand out notices to perhaps hundreds of nonteaching staff members this spring.
The drastic measures are triggered by declining student enrollment and shrinking funding, forcing the district to slash $25 million from next year's budget.
"This district has been falling apart day by day, week by week, year by year. God help us all," said Aaron Castro, president of the union that represents the district's non-teaching staff.
Members of the California School Employees Association and Modesto Teachers Association expressed outrage at the size of the salary cuts trustees proposed.
"This is unquestionably the most unreasonable proposal we've ever received," objected Barney Hale, executive director for the teachers association.
The district's initial contract offer is for a 12.5 percent pay cut, plus seven unpaid furlough days that would reduce salaries an additional 3.5 percent.
When added to the 370 teacher layoffs, Hale calculated that the district proposal would reduce teacher expenditures by $40 million next year. He questioned why such over-the-top cuts were being proposed.
Trustee Cindy Marks defended the board's opening proposal by explaining how the unions can prevent layoffs if they'll agree to salary cuts. Marks said that for every 1 percent pay cut to employee salaries, the district saves $2 million.
The district already has identified about $4.5 million in nonsalary cuts it can make toward saving the necessary $25 million. If employees agree to a 10 percent pay cut, that would save $20 million and potentially eliminate the need for layoffs.
"All of you could have your jobs next year, depending on what's negotiated," Marks told the audience, which was filled with upset employees.
The initial bargaining proposal by the teachers union, however, called for a 0.2 percent raise.
"I heard my union propose no cuts. I think that's shameful. But I think what the district proposed is even more shameful," said Marianne Villalobos, a foreign language teacher at Modesto High.
Layoff notices will be distributed today to teachers at Modesto's junior high and high schools. They were handed out at the elementary schools Wednesday.
Teachers who have been with the district for as long as 10 years are being told they may not have a job come July. State law requires teachers be notified by March 15 if there's a chance they'll be laid off, so typically far more warnings are issued than jobs are cut.
Getting told they may lose their jobs surprised many teachers Wednesday, however, because they thought they had enough seniority to be safe.
It was a day of "shock and awe in education," said Bret Harte Elementary School teacher Margarita Jimenez, who has been with the district six years. She said about one-third of her school's teachers received notices.
"I just wanted to put a face to the number," Jimenez told trustees as she tried to hold back tears.
Trustee Nancy Cline also choked up at the meeting.
"I want everybody to know this is not easy," Cline said. "We don't sleep well at night either."
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2196.