State

Some teacher layoffs retracted

Modesto City Schools officials are rescinding layoff notices they sent to more than 200 teachers.

The move comes more than a month after administrators handed out 517 layoff warnings to teachers, librarians and counselors as part of a plan to chop $25 million from the 2010-11 budget year that starts July 1.

"Today was a very happy day on the campuses," Chris Flesuras, the district's chief of human resources, said Friday. "We've had a lot of our employees on pins and needles for at least a month."

Barney Hale from the Modesto Teachers Association called the timing of pulling the layoff notices "fishy." He said administrators changed the location of tonight's board meeting to Enochs High School in anticipation of teachers coming out en masse to protest the budget cuts.

"I'm skeptical as to why they sent them out," Hale said. "They absolutely had the ability to do that before spring break."

Board member Ruben Villalobos said those 200 layoff notices should never have been issued. He voted against issuing the layoff notices. "I think those jobs were bargaining chips in the negotiation," he said.

Flesuras said he rescinded the layoff notices in light of the district's new contract proposal for the Modesto Teachers Association. The new proposal includes:

A 3 percent salary reduction and five unpaid furlough days for a savings of $7.2 million. Combined, that's a 5.75 percent pay cut. The district originally proposed 16 percent.

Administrators are expected to take the same wage cuts that teachers accept after the agreements are reached.

A rise in elementary school classroom sizes from 20 students to 25 students per teacher to save $1.6 million. Although more than 300 layoff warnings remain in play, Hale is anticipating that about 100 teachers will lose their jobs when the budget cuts are completed.

Fewer counselors per student for a ratio of one per 750 students, saving $261,000. Hale expects seven to 14 counselors to lose their jobs.

Hale said the sticking points could be the increases in class sizes and workloads for teachers. He said a settlement -- if there is one -- likely is several weeks away.

"I think we've made progress, but there's an incredible distance," he said. "I'm still concerned that this may all break down."

Board member Gary Lopez said this year's budget process has been a "very emotional and trying time."

"I'm glad to see the progress made in negotiations is going to keep many of our teachers working," Lopez said. "Everyone has to come to the table and help us find a solution. I believe the bargaining groups and our negotiators have been working hard to get there."

The Modesto district has until June 30 to adopt a budget that includes $25 million in cuts. Officials already have cut $4.5 million by freezing positions and certain spending, Flesuras said.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.

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