With dozens of jobs in danger of falling to budget cuts, Tracy Unified School District officials delayed a decision on who should be laid off, choosing to wait and see whether the state will come through with funding to help balance the district’s budget.
Before Tuesday’s regular board of education meeting, TUSD Superintendent Brian Stephens had already warned the seven-member board that cuts could be deep and severe, considering that California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May revision of the state’s 2020-21 budget proposal would likely result in a 10% decrease in the Local Control Funding Formula, which provides the majority of the money that supports school district general fund budgets.
The Local Control Funding Formula accounted for $142.6 million in TUSD’s 2019-20 general fund, out of about $161.6 million in total revenue, so Stephens was looking at cutting spending by at least $14.2 million. That would represent about 9% of the district’s revenue.
Tuesday’s board of education meeting agenda included possible authorization of layoffs among non-teaching classified staff, 153 jobs in all, plus four management positions. Tracy Unified’s 2019-20 budget lists the full-time equivalent of 1,384 staff members: 701 teachers, 535 classified employees and 148 management positions.
Of the classified jobs up for cuts, 13 were year-round, full-time positions and eight were 10-month, full-time positions. Most of the rest were 10-month, part-time positions.
Stephens told the school board on Tuesday that he still hoped the state would provide enough funding to local districts to make those cuts unnecessary. He asked the trustees to postpone any decision on personnel cuts until a special meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 17.
“By that time, the state legislature, both the state Senate and state Assembly, should reach agreement — by Monday, June 15 — for the budget for the state,” Stephens told the board. “I think information may change and it’s worth having before making these considerations.”
On June 3, California State Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, announced that she and other legislative leaders had come up with an agreement that could maintain full funding for K-14 schools even as COVID-19 created budget shortfalls around the state.
Atkins noted that a “strong likelihood of additional federal relief” could allow the state to draw on its budget reserves in the short term. That relief would come from the federal Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the $3 trillion relief bill, of which education was just one aspect, on a partisan vote of 208-199-23, with Democrats mostly in favor and Republicans mostly opposed, on May 15. The U.S. Senate has yet to vote on the bill.
The school district continues to hold board meetings online in response to state and county quarantine orders related to COVID-19. Instead of facing a roomful of speakers demanding that the district reconsider personnel cuts, board of education President Brian Pekari read into the record more than 50 email messages on the topic.
Commenters reminded the board how much the students and staff members at local schools value their non-teaching classified employees, including secretaries, custodians, librarians, parent liaisons, bus drivers and paraeducators.
Among the 153 jobs considered, 80 of them are paraeducators, who work side by side with teachers in the classroom, often helping out with English-learning students.
“Without bilingual para-educators, translators, or the parent liaisons, how do you plan to maintain a tighter connection between families who do not have access to English resources and the schools that their children attend?” wrote Alan Arroyo Chavez. “Approving the proposed budget cuts will effectively curtail their participation in their school communities, hindering their children’s success.”
Michele Nisbet wrote that she had been a paraeducator for 14 years and felt that workers like her were vital in helping students learn.
“I have supported teachers and admin and worked hard for our students and families. Many of us have dedicated years and years of service to this district and the realization that we are so dispensable is disheartening,” she wrote.
Commenters noted that paraeducators also provide a link between teachers and special education students.
Trustee Lori Souza said that having to vote on budget cuts was one of the toughest parts of being a trustee, so she looked forward to seeing what state budget negotiations would bring next week.
“Know that this is heavy on our hearts too, and we’re putting all of the information together as it comes in,” Souza said.
“We’re watching it hourly, daily, minute by minute, and we’re all — every single person that I have talked to in the administration, within the board, is watching this very, very closely. If we were not doing that, the decision would not have been made tonight to move the budget cuts to next week, to wait on the state budget.”
Pekari said he also felt the pressure of keeping a balanced budget for the district when so many jobs and livelihoods are at stake.
“I’m watching this 24/7. We all are and we’re taking this seriously,” he said. “Please continue to share with us. Please continue the open dialogue. We’re all in this together and we’re all trying our best.”