Unions, Modesto City Schools closing in on deals

Contract negotiations with Modesto City Schools' unions are making progress, but revised budget projections may cause more financial problems than expected for education.

A conditional agreement reportedly has been reached with Modesto's nonteaching staff members, and the teachers' union is optimistic its contract may be resolved next week.

The unions may be wise to settle quickly because there's speculation state budget revisions May 14 could force schools to cut more than planned.

Modesto City Schools must trim about $25 million — 10 percent — from its 2010-11 budget because of dwindling state funding. The recession has reduced tax revenues dramatically, forcing all California government agencies to make do with less.

That prompted Modesto this spring to issue 517 layoff notices to teachers, counselors and librarians and another 140 pink slips to nonteaching staff members. The district's trustees then proposed unions accept pay cuts and unpaid furloughs to save jobs.

Apparently, that's what is going to happen.

"We need to get on with accepting this is going to be a painful year or two," said Megan Gowans, the Modesto Teachers Association's executive director. "We're close to a settlement."

In mid-April, Modesto's school administrators agreed to a 3 percent pay cut plus five unpaid furlough days, which will lower their salaries by a combined 5.5 percent.

Gowans said the district's nonmanagement employees also are being asked to accept cuts of about 5.5 percent.

The negotiating team for the California School Employees Union reached agreement with the district last week, but details of that deal haven't been announced.

"We have resolved all of the issues and are waiting for approval of the (school) board and the regional office of CSEA," said Chris Flesuras, the district's deputy superintendent and human resources manager.

Far fewer teachers may end up getting laid off than initially feared, according to Gowans.

She said the "latest speculation" is that no secondary school teachers will be laid off, except perhaps those who have temporary jobs. At the elementary schools, Gowans said only "a few" permanent teachers and some probationary teachers will be let go.

Flesuras is not as optimistic.

"If we get a deal with the teachers, the number will be around 100 total layoffs. A majority will be (elementary teachers) because of class-size reduction," he said. "I am hoping that we only have to lay off probationary teachers (for seventh through 12th grades), but we will have to lay off permanent teachers (in kindergarten through sixth grades)."

That may be the current plan, but the statewide budget crunch is expected to get worse. Next week, Gov. Schwarzenegger will announce his May revisions for California's budget.

School districts "are on a roller-coaster ride regarding the May revision," said Don Gatti, the budget guru for the Stanislaus County Office of Education. Through most of April, he said "word on the street was all about the good news related to the state's revenue collections."

Then last Friday reports surfaced showing April revenues were $2.4 billion below estimates, which Gatti said could stick California with nearly a $20 billion deficit.

"The news about April tax receipts has us facing more cuts above those proposed by the governor in January," Gatti warned. "If that is the case, it will be even that much more difficult for the districts when the May revision is announced."

Gatti said he doesn't expect to have a clear picture of what to expect until May 20.

Modesto City Schools, meanwhile, has not altered it budget forecast.

"The district's position is to still cut $25 million, based on the known proposals from the governor's January projection," said Julie Chapin, Mo- desto business services director. "The district continues to work with current information and preparing itself the best it can for the unknown financial roller coaster that lies ahead."

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at or 578-2196.