Tracy Unified School District expects to avoid a wave of layoffs now that state legislators have proposed a budget that would keep schools fully funded into the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The district had been considering cutting 153 non-certificated classified positions, including 80 paraeducators who work with teachers in the classroom, plus librarians, parent liaisons, custodians and bus drivers.
On Wednesday night, Superintendent Brian Stephens told the seven-member board of education that a budget compromise in Sacramento will enable school districts to avoid such drastic cuts.
Wednesday’s meeting was a special session, continued from last week, so that a decision on potential cuts could be made, or avoided, in light of the latest budget news from Sacramento.
Stephens noted that in the face of COVID-19 closures affecting the state’s economy and tax revenue, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May revision of the state budget included a 10% cut to the Local Control Funding Formula.
The Local Control Funding Formula in the 2019-20 fiscal year provided the bulk of the district’s general fund revenue, which is the part of the district budget that pays for salaries. It accounted for about $142.6 million out of the $161.6 million in TUSD’s general fund revenue, so the proposed state cuts represented a reduction of about 9% in the district’s revenue for 2020-21.
Stephens had previously warned the board that deep cuts were likely, but with budget negotiations still ongoing at the state level, all he could tell the board as of last week was that conditions would keep changing as budget deadlines loomed on the state and local levels, and local decisions would depend on the potential for agreement between the governor and the legislature.
“Typically in my past 30 years, the governor’s budget, the Senate and the Assembly are very closely aligned. There’s really very little difference between the two of them,” Stephens told the board. “This year it wasn’t a little difference. It was a gap. It was a huge gap. Mr. Newsom advocated making these cuts while the Senate and Assembly advocated a no-cut budget to the school district.”
He learned on Monday that the state Senate and Assembly had drafted, and unanimously approved, a budget that kept the full Local Control Funding Formula allocation in place.
“It appears that as of Monday of this week, it seems clear that Mr. Newsom is willing to adopt the budget as put forth by the state Senate and by the Assembly, which is a no-cut budget to school districts,” Stephens said.
“The end result is going to be that there will be no cuts to our classified positions. There will be no cuts to our certificated. There will be no cuts to our administrative positions. This is a no-cut budget.”
One agenda item, representing 146 jobs, was pulled from consideration. The board voted in favor of another resolution, representing the elimination of seven part-time paraeducator positions, on a 6-1 vote, with trustee Ameni Alexander dissenting. The board also approved another resolution eliminating four jobs — two elementary school assistant principal positions, a director of assessment and accountability, and a math coordinator — on a 6-1 vote, with Alexander again dissenting.
The school board held its meeting as a remote, online forum, while more than 100 people gathered outside, chanting and carrying signs to protest the potential loss of jobs in the district. They were not able to speak directly to the board, but more than 40 people had submitted their comments by email, and board president Brian Pekari read them into the record after Stephens had made his announcement.
Carl Walter, the designated labor relations representative for the California School Employees Association, representing workers from 12 Central Valley districts, told the board that no decision should be made regarding local layoffs until the district knew how much money it would get from the state.
“To approve the proposal this evening would be devastating to the students and the community that the district and board serve,” he wrote.
Lulu Flores, who identified herself as a 30-year employee with the district, was critical of how the district approached the prospect of cutting so many jobs.
“I’m very disappointed with our district not working with CSEA to negotiate our budget issue, save jobs as they did with Dr. (James) Franco was our superintendent, and we had cuts and layoffs done with more consideration and heart, unlike now.”
Alina Chavez pointed out that the largest group of employees targeted for layoffs, the paraeducators, include people who provide a link between teachers and Spanish-speaking students and parents.
“It’s a step back in our children’s education, a step back in TUSD growth and it’s discrimination against the Hispanic community, to leave them without the help and communication they need to have with educators in schools,” Chavez said. “It’s a big mistake to get rid of the bilingual support in a district with more than 50 percent Spanish speakers.”
When trustees had a chance to speak, they pushed back against other statements that suggested the district had targeted the classified employees while protecting the jobs of higher-paid managers and administrators.
“The past several years, we have done more trying to keep the district financially in the black. We have cut management positions, but no one remembers,” trustee Jill Costa said. “Management is always the last to get their annual raises. They get what everyone else gets. No special treatment. Compare our management salaries to other districts around us. You will find we are not overpaying anyone.”
Trustee Jeremy Silcox added that it is up to district leaders and the board to make tough decisions in times when preferred options are removed from consideration.
“To suggest that TUSD is immune to this crisis financially would be naïve at best. At worst, self-serving, irresponsible and deceptive,” he said.
“Today we are following Dr. Stephens’ request to not make further cuts. However, that does not mean there won’t be cuts in the future. Like I said before, nobody wants to do that,” he added. “To say we will not cut is irresponsible and gives a false sense of security.”