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Pink Slips Escalon Schools Brace For Worst
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It's another worst-case scenario for the Escalon Unified School District, as employees prepare for nearly two dozen pink slips to arrive.

"We'll be issuing layoff notices to 23 different employees," School District Superintendent Dave Mantooth said, noting that the school board approved a resolution dealing with the issue at its Tuesday, March 2 session.

The resolution, officially 'Regarding the Reduction or Discontinuance of Particular Kinds of Service' allows the district to issue the pink slips as required by the March 15 deadline.

"It's just a notice that the employee may be laid off," Mantooth said.

The notification has to be made by the March 15 deadline, otherwise the district has to retain the employee for the next school year. The pink slips, however, can be rescinded and receiving one does not automatically mean the employee will be laid off.

But with continuing state budget troubles and a declining enrollment, Mantooth said he knows it will be a tough year and hard to retain everyone in line for the pink slip issuance.

"Personnel is 85 percent of the budget," Mantooth explained.

Other areas that can be cut to help balance the budget have already been touched, so that leaves personnel as the main area from which to shave some costs.

"We don't have enough other things to cut in bad years," Mantooth said. "And this is potentially a very bad year."

Retirements and resignations helped provide a little wiggle room for this school year, but Mantooth said that can't always be counted on, either.

"This year we're in a much tighter situation," he admitted.

Looking at other avenues, Mantooth said money from a few different funds has been moved to cover some costs. Also, some federal stimulus money still on hand will be brought into play.

"We have nine positions that will be saved," with the leftover stimulus money, he estimated.

Of the 23 pink slips going out, there are cuts across the board.

"They come from all areas, K through 6 teachers, multi subject credentialed, single subject, middle and high school teachers, counselors, administration," Mantooth said.

Any necessary cuts will be made with an eye toward keeping the learning environment intact, he added.

"We want to maintain programs to the best of our ability," Mantooth said. With enrollment declining for another year, the district is likely to see less in the way of ADA money coming in.

The district and its teachers will be going back to the bargaining table, looking to come to agreement on a package that would be mutually acceptable to both sides while helping the school as well.

"We also have regularly scheduled negotiations with our CSEA," said Mantooth.

Escalon Unified Teachers Association President Ray Roncale said everyone is aware of the situation and the negotiating team is willing to work with the board.

A session is planned later this month to talk contract specifics. Roncale and EUTA negotiators Rick Heflin and Bryan Ney will be part of the session along with the district team.

"We'll schedule information meetings at all the school sites," Roncale said of keeping union members up to date. "Our job is to make sure they get all the information they need."

Roncale said the negotiations are possible because when the contract was settled last year, it included a stipulation to come back to the table to discuss certain issues.

"They all involve giving something ... pay cut, freezing salaries," he said.

Roncale added that teachers aren't unilaterally opposed to some cuts, but want to make sure if they do take a reduction in pay or agree to some other givebacks, the money saved is going to the kids.

"We'll look at what Dave has to propose," he said.

A couple of factors in favor of reaching agreement, Roncale added, is the good working relationship established over the years and the fact that the majority of Escalon teachers also call the community their home and are invested here for the long term.

Mantooth agreed that those factors are important.

"Education is not a whole lot different than any other field," said Mantooth in terms of having to cut back. "Together we can figure out ways to do this ... if we work together, we can come to some positive resolution."