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School $$$ Budget Picture Still Uncertain
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Taking a proactive approach, Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Dave Mantooth went to employees on Thursday with a pair of presentations dealing with the state budget crisis ... and what that means to the district.

Roughly 125 district employees turned out for the first gathering with more than two dozen at the second - offered to those that had to work until 5 p.m. - and Mantooth said the idea was to give employees an accurate picture of where the district stands.

"I wanted to explain the situation we're facing," he said, noting that with the Governor and legislature still haggling over a budget, there are no hard and fast numbers for the district to work with.

"We have to have a plan for all types of possibilities," Mantooth said.

There are some targets to meet based on what happened to the state in the past fiscal year, with the school grappling with a reduction of $895,000 from what they expected to receive.

"We have a plan to do that (cut the funds) that will not impact employees," Mantooth said.

However, some layoff notices may be sent out by the deadline in March, even though they may not translate into actual job losses, given the budget picture has cleared.

"We will not fill jobs as they come up," Mantooth said of one way to meet the reduced funding allotment. "We also have some money in reserves ... the mid year cuts we can handle. We're really cutting back on our purchase orders. We often get people requesting to purchase certain items and now we're looking at it as if 'do you need it right now'."

The second round of cuts, if the state budget crisis continues, could mean a $1.2 million impact.

"We have a plan, based on things we expect to happen," Mantooth said. "We have to go to a worst case scenario and it has to involve personnel."

March 15 is the date for layoff notices to be issued. They can be issued but not enacted. That has happened in the past and if they have to go out, Mantooth said the goal is working to make sure they don't result in actual job losses for employees.

"We may have to go through a process where we would have to issue the layoff notices but not implement them," he explained. "We would much prefer not to fill posts."

The numbers are mind boggling, all sides agree, when it comes to how much money schools across the state are being asked to cut from budgets. Mantooth said he felt it was important to go to employees directly and host the informational sessions

"It's a really scary time," admitted CSEA president and chief negotiator Elia Madruga, "but he's (Mantooth) doing everything he can to keep us in the loop and informed. We don't know which way things will go until the people above us make their decision."

Madruga said employees, both teachers and classified personnel, throughout the district were appreciative of the meetings and the information presented.

"Our district has been doing well managing its money," she pointed out. "We're lucky ... we don't have IOU's."

Other districts are letting people go, she said, and while that's a concern they know for now, employees here are safe.

"In addition to keeping us informed, he also has the budget committee working on possible solutions," Madruga said.

The sentiments were echoed by Escalon United Teachers Association president Ray Roncale and union negotiator Rick Heflin.

"He did a good job and he needed to do that," Roncale said of Mantooth meeting with the staff. "We all know that whatever the state decides, then we respond."

Roncale said the presentations were well received, with good, accurate information provided.

"He covered everything he could have," Roncale said, admitting that there are still plenty of questions because of the state's inability to agree on a budget.

"I thought it was a very good move to go out and share what he knew," Heflin said. "For a lot of people that aren't involved in the budget process, it was good ... I like the fact that we had a chance to see it."

Mantooth said he also has an 'open door policy' so any district employees with lingering questions or concerns can stop in any time and talk to him. If he doesn't have the information they need, he said he'll do his best to get it.

Keeping the lines of communication open will be key, all sides agreed, to weathering the storm the state is sending this way.

"We're also having a drop in enrollment." Roncale pointed out. "It's almost like a perfect storm ... less money because of fewer students, less money in the budget, it's a double whammy."