UPDATED: Pink slips off the table for GUSD

 

UPDATE: GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores said via email Sunday that out of 30 school districts in Santa Clara County, approximately 20 are not issuing layoff notices; the other 10 are issuing layoff notices.

None of the 573 certificated full- and part-time staff employed by the Gilroy Unified School District will receive pink slips this year – an unexpected decision that has members of the Gilroy Teachers Association “mystified,” “baffled” and “flabbergasted.”

“We’re shocked by it,” said GTA Vice President Paul Winslow. “I don’t think any district in the state is doing that… we can’t make heads or tails of it… no one has heard of this.”

By foregoing one of the few cost-saving measures the district has authority to execute without entering into negotiations with its bargaining units, teachers are wondering how GUSD plans on budgeting for a possible $3.2 million to $7.2 million loss in state funding.

Every item on GUSD’s list of budget cut recommendations are negotiable, Winslow said, such as furlough days, class size increases, reducing the work year and across-the-board salary reductions.

GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores responds by explaining the district expects to lose teachers next year.

After a “very careful, detailed and thorough analysis,” the district calculates that in the 2012-13 school year 45 teachers will not to return because they either: Do not have a permanent status in the district; have requested a leave of absence; have told the district they are going to retire; resign; or they fall into a few, additional categories that counts them out of GUSD’s staff tally for next year.

Because of this, layoff notices – which must legally be issued by a state-mandated deadline of March 15 – will not be sent out.

Flores said the school board decided to swap the emotionally taxing pink slip process by factoring the above variables into their budget formula.

“It creates a lot of turmoil for staff. It’s pretty demoralizing,” said GUSD trustee Jaime Rosso. “If we have other remedies that we can try to do, I would prefer personally to do that.”

Since GUSD has been able to re-hire most of its staff back in the last three years of layoffs, “I think this is something we can get by without doing,” said Rosso.

In addition to more than 30 teachers expected to leave, Flores said 12 to 16 teachers expressed through a recent poll conducted by the GTA an interest in a retirement incentive package open to teachers who are 58 or older. In the past,  retirement incentive packages have saved the district $150,000 annually, according to Flores, although the amount of this year’s retirement incentive – should the district choose to offer one – is unknown at this point.

Last year, the amount of the incentive was calculated by salary and age, and gave the retiree an option for the benefit amount according to Kim Filice, director of Human Resources for GUSD.

As the year wanes, Flores estimates that GUSD could have around 45 teachers who plan to leave the district. At a general cost of $71,334 per teacher (which includes all expenses associated with employing a full-time teacher that has been with the district for a while) the district could potentially save $3.2 million with 45 outgoing teachers.

It scrapes the surface of the “best case scenario,” the situation coined by school districts if a temporary tax initiative recently proposed by California Gov. Jerry Brown makes it to the November ballot and is passed by a majority of the voters.

If the tax initiative – which would temporarily increase the sales tax by one-half percent, and temporarily raise the personal income tax on Californians who make more than $250,000 annually – doesn’t pass, GUSD may have to cut $7.2 million.

In light of the current fiscal outlook, the school board is also considering for the first time the possibility of putting a parcel tax before Gilroyans to help raise local funding for schools. While an exact amount to be proposed, if any, is unknown, GUSD has been presented with options ranging from $50 to $300 annually that could raise $735,000 to $4.4 million annually for the length of the tax.

While the district is confident it will have enough departing employees to confiscate the lack of layoffs, Winslow and GTA President Michelle Nelson are skeptical.

“Some of the people they’re letting go are high-need spots that will have to be replaced,” said Nelson. “I wouldn’t be surprised if GUSD is the only district in California that isn’t issuing layoffs. I think they’re making a huge assumption.”

Nelson and Winslow also touched on the fact that no layoffs will narrow the budget saving possibilities in a climate where 85 percent of the budget consists of personnel.

“You can’t keep everything you want in a budget crisis,” said Winslow. “You have to cut the cable and get rid of one cell phone.”

The GTA is surprised with the district’s decision to forego direction from School Services of California, which advised in a recent fiscal report on the “importance of planning conservatively and issuing a sufficient number of March 15 layoff notices assuming worst-case scenarios.”

“Regrettably, we advise that local educational agencies use the tried and true March 15 process,” the advisory states.

Laying off teachers as a precautionary, protective measure and then re-hiring them back before the start of school year is a standard practice, Winslow explained.

As for how GUSD chooses to implement additional cuts – and just how much – it’s all up in the air.

While $7.2 million marks the “worst-case scenario,” Flores cannot speak to whether trustees will eek that much from the budget, or aim for somewhere in the middle.

In its budget menu, the district presents cost-saving measures of increasing class sizes by cutting approximately 49.7 FTE (full-time equivalent) K-12 positions, not including the possible termination of elementary music and PE. This would require the elimination of 3.6 FTE’s.

However, the extent of cuts can’t come from class size increases alone, Flores said.

Even with highest proposed ratios for K-12 (as many as 38-to-1 in grades nine through 12), the school would save $3.5 million; a little more than enough for its “best case scenario.”

When asked what measure she would gravitate to over another, Flores said she would prefer furlough days versus across-the-board salary reductions because “this means people are being paid less but working the same number of days,” she said.

Nelson and Winslow said Wednesday they’ve yet to receive a response from the school board regarding the five-page list of money-saving recommendations compiled by teachers and submitted through the GTA in mid-February.

Flores said she has combed through it, although nothing stands out to her as particularly feasible.

She said some of the items have already been executed (a freeze on new curriculum adoptions); investigated (a four-day work week; eliminating the mileage stipends), wouldn’t save money (eliminating the Dual Immersion program; having teachers buy classroom materials on their own), or are paid for through restricted funding.

As for closing an elementary school – also one of the items listed on the GTA’s list of recommendations – Flores said she could not support this move, considering future growth projections for Gilroy’s population.

“Something like that to me would be pretty extreme,” echoed Rosso. “But if we had to make a $7 million cut, (the board) may have a different attitude.”

 

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