State

School won't be the same in Modesto

Fewer school days. Larger classes. No more year-round schedules.

It's going to be a new experience for Modesto City Schools students when they return to campus this summer.

Yep. Next year starts Aug. 11.

Gone are the days when youngsters attended school from Labor Day through Memorial Day.

Now all of the Modesto district's schools will operate on the same calendar, which will provide 175 days of education from Aug. 11 to May 27.

That includes a three-week winter break, a one-week spring break and 14 additional days off.

The district and its teachers union tentatively agreed to that schedule last week during contract negotiations. By shortening the school year by five days, eliminating one nonteaching workday and lowering salaries by 1.1 percent, the deal will reduce teacher pay about 4.5 percent.

The agreement will increase the number of students in every kindergarten through third-grade classroom by about five. Instead of 20 students per teacher, there will be 25.

Each seventh- through 12th-grade class will add an additional student.

"There's no question the big losers are the students," said Barney Hale, the Modesto Teachers Association's executive director. He blamed state budget cuts, which are forcing the district to reduce spending by $25 million, or about 10 percent.

About $13 million of those cuts will come from the district's nearly 1,600 teachers, librarians and counselors. An additional $3.75 million will come from nonteaching employees, and slightly more than $2 million will come from administrators.

A variety of nonpersonnel cuts worth about $6 million is expected to close the remaining budget gap.

The cuts among instructors will include laying off about 65 elementary school teachers, which will be possible because larger class sizes will mean fewer teachers are needed. Most of those being laid off will be temporary and probationary teachers, but a few will be tenured, permanent employees.

An additional 15 or so high school teachers, almost all of whom are probationary employees, will be laid off.

"Some of those who get layoff notices probably will get their jobs back, if enrollment holds," Hale said. That's because the district will let go more teachers than necessary based on enrollment projections, then hire back based on seniority once it is known how many students enroll.

Modesto Teachers Association members will vote on the proposed contract May 26-28.

"I don't think it will pass overwhelmingly, but it will pass," Hale predicted.

Enrollment down, too

Modesto's elementary schools have been losing enrollment since 2002. Because California funds public schools based on enrollment, declining enrollment means the district has less money to spend.

Shrinking enrollment also means the district has less need for year-round schools. When enrollment was growing, Modesto placed students on staggered, year-round tracks to expand the number of youngsters it could educate on elementary campuses.

Elementary school enrollment has declined nearly 20 percent over the past eight years, so the district no longer needs to operate any campus year-round.

That's why Fairview, Kirschen, Martone and Tuol-umne elementaries will shift from multitrack, year-round schedules to the traditional schedule. Bret Harte, Burbank, Franklin, Marshall and Robertson Road elementaries will shift from a single-track, year-round schedule to the traditional schedule.

Operating costs will dip

Because those schools will start closing each June and July, the district will save on operating expenses. The district also is reducing the length of its nonteaching staff's work year because employees -- such as cafeteria workers, bus drivers and secretaries -- will not be needed while the schools are closed.

The district likely will have to start permanently closing elementary school campuses next year to compensate for the 3,500-student enrollment decline.

Modesto's high school enrollment has fallen about 2 percent since 2005, but it has built two new high school campuses since then. Enochs High opened in 2006, and Gregori High will open in August.

Gregori will require attendance area boundary shifts throughout the greater Modesto area as an estimated 14,000 teenagers are divided among seven high school campuses rather than six.

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

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