State

Stanislaus Districts seeking to reduce payroll, leave wages alone

As Stanislaus County school districts struggle to cut budgets because of declining enrollment and dwindling tax revenue, many may shrink the number of school days.

Payroll cuts are needed to balance budgets.

But rather than just cutting wages, some districts plan to reduce the number of workdays while paying employees the same amount per day.

Other districts propose cutting both workdays and wage levels.

Either way, many Stanislaus children will get fewer instructional days during the 2010-11 school year.

Modesto City Schools' trustees, for instance, propose slashing educational days from the current 180 to 175.

Compare that with the 225 days of education students receive in South Korea or the 220 days children in Japan and Germany get.

"We all admit it's not in the best interest of the students," said Kristen Elgen, assistant superintendent for the Stanislaus Union School District in northwest Modesto. "It goes against everything we want for our students."

But Stanislaus Union is cutting educational days anyway, immediately. The district and its employee unions recently agreed to cut two

instructional days this spring and four days next year.

That means that instead of receiving 180 days of education, Stanislaus Union's students will be in class 178 days this school year and 176 next year.

Cutting employee workdays enabled Stanislaus Union to cut its payroll costs and balance its budget without reducing how much teachers, administrators and other staff members earn per day. Essentially, the staff will be paid less because they will work less, rather than having their hourly wage reduced.

"We needed to cut $2.6 million ... about 10 percent of our budget," said Elgen, noting that about 24 teaching positions also will eliminated. Stanislaus Union has declining enrollment, so it needs fewer teachers than before.

Modesto City Schools also needs to cut 10 percent of its budget, which equates to about $25 million. To do that, the district is bargaining with its employee unions for wage concessions.

In its opening proposal, Modesto's school board proposed cutting salaries 12.5 per- cent, plus eliminating seven workdays (including five instructional days) to save an additional 3.5 percent in payroll costs.

Last year, Modesto teachers worked 185 days for their salary, but taught 180 days. This year, they will work 183 days and teach 180 days. Next year, they could work 175 days, all of which would be instructional days.

The Sylvan Union School District in northeast Modesto also proposes cutting education days down to 175 from the current 180.

"Without salary reductions, we have to do all the layoffs," said Sylvan Assistant Superintendent David Holtz, noting that 42 of the district's 434 teachers and counselors were warned they could lose their jobs. Sylvan needs to cut $5 million, about 10 percent of its budget.

Districtwide salary reductions of 8.7 percent would be needed to avoid any Sylvan layoffs, Holtz said. Those reductions could come from lowering wages as well as shortening the work year.

"They're partners in solving this dilemma," Holtz said of Sylvan's employee unions, with whom negotiations will start this month.

Fewer days, same pay

If Sylvan's unions agree to such pay cuts, the district's staff members next year would earn about what they did during the 2005-06 school year. But they would work fewer days.

Some school districts in the county oppose cutting instructional days, even though California lawmakers this year decided it's allowed.

"I don't think we have enough time as it is with kids," said Superintendent Sonny Da Marto of the Turlock Unified School District. "Cutting school days has a direct impact on the students."

Da Marto said Turlock schools will continue to offer students 180 instructional days. So his district will need to find other ways to cut $4 million from its $114 million budget.

"There's going to have to be some kind of salary and benefit reduction for us to make it," Da Marto said. In case unions don't agree, Turlock sent layoff warnings to 70 of its 800 teachers.

Layoff notices also have been sent in the Empire Union School District in southeast Modesto, which isn't counting on labor negotiations or reduced instructional days to cut $2.5 million.

"We've made the cuts we need without any concessions from our unions because there's no guarantee we are going to get concessions at the bargaining table," said Empire Superintendent Robert Price. "Our budget is balanced now."

Price said Empire's teachers are paid for 183 days per year, with students attending 180 days. He said his district would consider unpaid furlough days in lieu of staff cuts.

"If we can generate some savings in terms of furlough days, it would help negate some of the layoffs," said Price, whose district warned 37 teachers last month their jobs might be eliminated. "We are hopeful employees will step forward and help us save some jobs."

Empire's staff has been feeling the effects of shrinking budgets caused by declining enrollment since 2003.

"We have not given salary increases the last couple years," Price said. "And our employees have paid for increases in benefit costs themselves."

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or 578-2196.

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