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Sulphur Springs faces deep cuts, layoffs

School district waits to hear from Sacramento, prepares to deal with worst-case scenario

Posted: February 2, 2009 9:42 p.m.
Updated: February 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Bracing for an estimated $3 million in budget cuts for the 2009-10 school year, Sulphur Springs School District officials expect to send between 40 and 80 preliminary layoff notices to teachers March 15.

"We're still waiting for a state budget. We're still waiting for a decision from Sacramento," said Superintendent Robert Nolet. "Absent that, we do need to move forward with the worst-case scenario."

That scenario involves about a $3 million cut, or about 7 percent of the district's budget, for the 2009-10 year or seven percent from the entire budget, Nolet said.

Along with sending notices, officials are faced with the possibility of laying off library support staff, home to school transportation drivers, custodians and clerical staff.

District officials are required by union contract to send preliminary layoff notices by March 15 for the 2009-10 year.

"Every position and program identified has been something that we have greatly appreciated," Nolet said. "It makes a significant effect on the success of the district."

District officials plan to offer "generous" retirement incentive plans for employees as a way to reduce the number of layoffs, he said.

"Will there be a general reduction in employees? Absolutely. No question," Nolet said.

District officials suggest parents could volunteer at school libraries, however, Patty Fitzpatrick, Sulphur Springs Union School District Teachers Association president, voiced concerns over the availability of parents.

"I'm not sure the parents are going to be able to just jump up and volunteer," Fitzpatrick said. "If people had the freedom to (volunteer), I think they'd be doing it right now."

The education of the more than 5,000 Sulphur Springs students at the nine schools remains the top priority.

"We're going to continue to provide a quality education, but it's going to be far, far more difficult," Nolet said.

District officials hope to absorb the $2 million cuts for the current 2008-09 year.

"Then we have to restore those balances next year and absorb the cuts," Nolet said.

The district board members will continue to face difficult decisions.

"It's the worst situation that I've seen in my 16 years on the board," said board president Sheldon Wigdor.

While the board recognizes that state cuts have yet to be finalized, board members want to be proactive.

"The board has not taken any formal action with respect to personnel," he said. "What we have recommended is that we prepare the March 15 notices, which are just preliminary notices."

The final layoff notices will be sent May 15.

With plans to make deep cuts, removing emotion from the situation is difficult.

"Any layoff, any personnel action is going to affect someone," he said, adding that the goal is to, "minimize the pain that any individual is going to feel."

District officials placed the Soledad Entertainment Center, home to the Edwards movie theater and multiple businesses and restaurants in Canyon Country, on sale for $24 million as a way to reduce the district's long-term debt, Nolet said.

Making a sale could be difficult.

"In this market, it's highly doubtful, but it's available," Nolet said.

District officials plan to turn the district's former offices on Sierra Highway into a property that could be leased, Nolet said.

School officials continue to hold meetings with staff and parent groups to keep them informed of the looming cuts.

"Our goal here at the board and myself is we're going to try and mitigate as much as possible the impact on the employee level as much as we can while still maintaining a quality education product," Nolet said.

It's a goal that resonates with school groups.

"I think our board does a pretty good job of trying to cut as far away from the classroom as possible," said Mike Hubbard, school site parent representative at Fair Oaks Ranch Community School.

But more budget decisions remain.

"They're at a stage now where they have to make painful cuts," Hubbard said. "There's no real good solution."

Much like district officials, Hubbard, the parent of two Fair Oaks children, would like to see flexibility with class sizes.

"If Sacramento would authorize modified class size reductions, that's a good happy medium," he said, estimating a $1.6 million savings for the district.

Still, frustrations over an absent state budget remain.

"The state has been dragging this on for so long. Everybody's in limbo," Fitzpatrick said.
The cuts will leave children impacted the most.

"This is going to hurt kids," she said. "Everybody is going to have to pay a little bit more whether it's in taxes. Otherwise we're going to be devastated in the future."

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