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Pass Or Fail? - School Staff Cuts Loom
Even as observers were taking notes and helping students complete Kindergarten Readiness assessments, staff members in the Escalon Unified School District were getting layoff notices.

The pink slips for teachers went out last month, the latest round of layoff notices went to classified employees just this past week. The hope is to 'pull back' at least some of the pink slips and bring those targeted employees back for the 2012-2013 school year but the likelihood is that some will be left without a job.

"What we're learning from the state and the county is that our district will be cut by $1.3 million if taxes don't pass," Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa said, noting that there are ballot initiatives coming that could help, but the district is planning for the worst case scenario.

"We're looking to preserve programs for the students," Costa said.

With the bulk of the district budget tied up in personnel, that's where the cuts are coming.

"We issued 12 (classified) pink slips, six for positions that were eliminated and six for reduced hours," he said.

Covering primarily clerical and transportation employees, the cuts would take effect when the new school year begins on July 1, lowering the cost to the district. Transportation is taking an especially hard hit, with state reimbursement questionable beyond next year.

"That puts another strain on our already strained budget," Costa said of the district having to finance an estimated $600,000 in transportation costs if no money is forthcoming from the state.

"There is no good way to make cuts," he said. "The board has discussed options, looked at ways to save money. Eighty-five percent of our cost is personnel."

Longtime district employee Maria Dusi spoke out against pending cuts in a prepared statement to the school board at a recent meeting, concerned about the possible loss of busing for rural elementary students in the afternoons.

"Times are tough but we need to stop all the new spending, so we can stop chopping off the little we do have," Dusi stressed. "We are not just numbers, from bus drivers, mechanics, to secretaries. We are people that are part of the lives of the children in the school district, who are the future of our community."

Costa said deciding to make personnel cuts is always difficult.

"Nothing is ever set in stone," he added.

Employees given pink slips could be called back if the funding situation improves or if a position opens up due to a retirement or another teacher or employee voluntarily leaving the district for a different position elsewhere.

"I know this is very hard for all involved," Costa said. "But it is most difficult for those affected and with 25 percent less money than previously, you have to figure out where you can cut."