CERES — The Ceres Unified School District is taking a different approach to addressing its $10 million budget gap.
Unlike many other districts in the region, Ceres won't lay off teachers. School officials also don't want to cut programs, to ensure the current crop of students can get a quality education.
Still, the 2010-11 budget plan is a bitter pill for teachers and other union employees because the district is counting on them to accept an 8.5 percent pay cut.
Schools Superintendent Walt Hanline gave a budget report Tuesday evening at a joint meeting of the school board and Ceres City Council.
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The city and school district forged a partnership three years ago to coordinate public use of parks and schools sites, and to develop family-oriented services.
But with thousands of homes in foreclosure and the city's unemployment rate about 20 percent, both entities are just trying to survive the unprecedented economic slump.
From Hanline's perspective, the school district needs to save education for the current generation of students.
He said he sees no end to the funding woes until 2015 or 2016. And it would not be right for students to go without music classes, athletics or a quality education for such a long time.
While other districts in Stanislaus County sent nearly 1,000 layoff notices, Ceres issued no warnings to its 531 teachers, counselors and librarians before Monday's state deadline. In return, Ceres school officials want those employees to sacrifice a portion of their paychecks.
Administrators and nonunion employees took an 8.5 percent pay cut in January. Salary cuts for union-covered employees would erase half of the $10 million budget deficit, Hanline said. Other savings were achieved by reducing 28 administrative, certificated and classified positions through attrition.
"The 8.5 percent is the last piece," said Hanline, who will retire at the end of June. "We have done all we can do without cutting the basis of what we are here for."
A deadlock in the salary negotiations prompted the district to declare an impasse a couple of weeks ago. The first session with an independent mediator was held Tuesday. As the process moves forward, the mediator could propose a settlement or call for an independent review of the budget.
"With the fact-finding process, the district has to show a need for the 8.5 percent reduction," said Cheryl Brewer, president of the Ceres Unified Teachers Association. "Our negotiation team is not convinced 8.5 percent is the necessary number."
Steady enrollment noted
The union representing teachers, librarians, nurses, and speech and language pathologists was pleased to see no layoff warnings from the district, Brewer said, noting the district doesn't have declining enrollment like other districts.
The union agrees with preserving programs for students, she said, but "we believe some things can be done away from the classroom that can help the budget process. ... We are willing to negotiate for part of the pay decrease, but there needs to be something in return, such as fewer working days" or better working conditions.
Hanline addressed other questions raised during the budget process, such as the effect of the district's $160 million building campaign on the deficit.
He stressed it is having no impact: César Chávez Junior High School will not open until August 2011 and construction of three elementary schools is three to five years away because the state isn't selling school bonds.
Opening a school costs $250,000 to $350,000, he said.
As for the city's budget problems, City Manager Brad Kilger said officials are negotiating with labor groups over a 10 percent pay cut to plug a $3 million general fund shortfall.
Kilger hopes property and sales tax revenue hit bottom in 2010-11.
Recreation and parks will take a budget hit next fiscal year, he said. But city leaders are determined — and required by the Measure H sales tax — to maintain public safety staffing levels.
School board and council members remained upbeat despite the budget troubles, devoting much discussion Tuesday evening to a Youth Sports Committee for developing "an outstanding youth sports program" in Ceres.
Under the plan, high school varsity coaches will work with coaches in the city's youth football programs, so the city programs feed into high school athletics.
"We are obviously concerned that we still haven't seen any sunlight at the end of the tunnel," City Councilman Guillermo Ochoa said. "But we are pretty optimistic that things will go well for us in Ceres."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.