Turlock district picks up fiscal ax

TURLOCK -- School board members will consider trimming some big chunks out of the budget when they meet tonight.

The Turlock Unified School District board meeting will start with negotiations with its labor unions, and then in open session will address $2.3 million in other cuts.

Although the district sent 25 layoff notices to staff last week -- added to 76 sent to teachers last month -- officials hope they can make up a $3.9 million budget shortfall without layoffs.

"My hope is that we will be able to all take a reduction across the board to avoid layoffs," Superintendent Sonny DaMarto said Monday. Deadlines in union contracts require the district to warn its employees if their jobs are in jeopardy.

Unlike many districts, Turlock made it through the recent budget crisis without layoffs. The district cut $12 million over two years through golden-handshake retirement agreements and districtwide salary reductions, among other measures. The district used reserves and federal stimulus money to fill some of the holes left by the state.

The $2.3 million the board will consider cutting tonight includes $1.9 million in federal money the district will keep instead of sending to individual school sites.

"That's a federal program that we help low-income kids," DaMarto said. "We get reimbursement for doing that."

In the past, that reimbursement has gone to the sites to be spent at the discretion of administrators. Tonight's proposal calls for most of it to be retained in the general fund, with $400,000 released to the sites.

"That's the same amount we gave them last year," Da-Marto said.

Other proposed cuts include school site and district office allocations, maintenance and the elimination of general education diploma testing.

The board also will get an update on the overall budget situation.

"We'll be asking for direction on some of those other matters," DaMarto said.

The district's open session will begin at 6:30 tonight in the Performing Arts Building at Turlock High School, 1600 E. Canal Drive. Reporter Patty Guerra will blog live from the meeting.

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or 578-2343.