Assembly bill shifts budget power to protect teachers

 

Details of a bill that gives school districts less authority,
panders to teachers unions and leaves just one major out for
balancing local budgets during the 2011-12 school
– shortening the school year – are still looking murky to school
district officials in South County.
Details of a bill that gives school districts less authority, panders to teachers unions and leaves just one major out for balancing local budgets during the 2011-12 school – shortening the school year – are still looking murky to school district officials in South County.

But one thing is certain in Assembly Bill 114, school districts are now prohibited by law to layoff teachers, the most sweeping cost-cutting option for local districts since salaries account for 80 percent of most district budgets.

For many public schools, which have already cut programs like summer school, electives and even graduation ceremonies, dismissing teachers and their salaries, which account for 80 percent of most district budgets, is no longer an option statewide without union approval.

The bill does not allow for any teacher layoffs or cuts to any programs in 2011-12 and state funding must remain at the 2010-11 spending levels, which could mean mid-year reductions if enrollment dips or cash flow becomes an issue.

Assembly Bill 114 does allow school districts to cut up to seven instructional days.

The pigeon-holing has been criticized by some, though Assemblymember Bill Monning, who voted for Assembly Bill 114 on June 28, says it’s a fair question, but the economy is driving the solution.

“You have to look at this budget in a recessionary economy, a $26 billion deficit. As we enter these budget negotiations, we protected K-12 (education) that faces no reductions. No other program in the state can enjoy that protection,” said Monning, a two-term Democrat representing the 27th Assembly district.

Monning said the bill eliminates the uncertainty of pink slips that can still be issued with some restraints in August, though both MHUSD and GUSD do not have plans for additional layoffs. Also, school districts no longer have to report a three-year out budget to the county office of education as in year’s past.

“School districts complain because of late budgets. It’s lack of predictability. Now, school districts can communicate they will receive this level of funding to avoid disruption in the classroom and a reduction of quality in student education. (We’re saying), you may not do layoffs in the middle of the year and we’re giving you a predicted budget level,” he said.

Democratic Assemblymember Luis Alejo, who represents the 28th Assembly that includes Gilroy, also voted for the bill. Alejo failed to return several requests for an interview. He did send a one-sentence statement via a staff member: “AB 114 accomplished my core education priorities of protecting K-12 education funding and maintaining class sizes. We owe it to our children to put their education needs first, letting them down would be unforgivable.”

In Gilroy, the proposition of furloughs came quickly since layoffs were avoided entirely this year. GUSD officials approved eight furlough days for teachers and administrators, though they will not affect actual days in the classroom for students.

“Our question has to do with furlough days. We’re very concerned with mid-year cuts, and a provision in the bill that allows districts to reduce by seven more days. Obviously for us, furlough days is a bigger question than layoffs, said Superintendent Debbie Flores. “It’s a very complicated bill. We’re reading lots of emails from lots of district organizations that have various viewpoints.”

As for how the bill will affect GUSD directly, Kirsten Perez, the director of fiscal services, will attend two upcoming workshops to bring the district up to speed.

“Quite frankly, we don’t want to rely on our own analysis. We want to hear from financial experts,” Perez said.

Flores pointed out that the state is telling schools they must have a balanced budget with a 3 percent reserve without layoffs, but in GUSD’s case it’s a “moot issue” since their state-mandated deadline to issue layoffs was May 15.

“Before we issue any kind of statement, we would rather attend both workshops, hear what the experts are telling us. After reviewing the information (in the bill) we have many more questions that we have no answers for. It’s a very complicated budget for K-12 education …it’s very confusing. We haven’t even given the board a briefing. We’re reluctant to say anything until we go to two workshops with top financial experts in the state.”

All layoffs and furloughs must be negotiated with the unions.

Teacher layoffs in the last three years at MHUSD have become an expected component toward budget solvency. Now, class sizes are at contract limit, said Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers’ president Theresa Sage; meaning classes can’t get any bigger without a review of the contract.

For GUSD, an error by the district office in not sending out layoff notices by the state’s deadline, may have been good news for teachers facing those layoffs. However, eight furlough days were approved for 2011-12 to offset the money lost in not reducing class sizes and letting go teachers.

At a June 2 board meeting, class sizes were reinstated to last year’s status (24 students for 1 teacher for grades kindergarten through first, 28-to-1 for grades second through third, 32-to-1 for grades fourth through fifth and 33-to-1 for the sixth through eighth grades.)

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Assembly Bill 114 prevents layoffs of teachers and cuts to programs in 2011-12. Now, there is a likely possibility of less time in the classroom for students. State lawmakers mandated cutting the school year up to seven days, though it must be negotiated with local bargaining units.

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