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School Still Crunching Budget, Personnel Numbers
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In a session that lasted well over an hour, Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Dave Mantooth met with several district classified and certificated staff members on Wednesday, reviewing the status of the school budget and getting an update on potential job losses in the district.

"There's a lot of uncertainty," Mantooth admitted of what the final budget picture for the 2010-2011 school year will look like. "I'm really leery of making any guarantees."

School employees point to the pink slips issued by the March 15 deadline and said they hope not all 22 jobs will be lost. Three of the pink slips, it was noted, went to Escalon High School counselors, a move that would decimate that department, leaving only one counselor at the high school.

Without citing specifics, Mantooth said officials are fairly confident that not all the pink slips handed out will translate to job losses. The 22 represent the 'worst case scenario' for the district.

"We have declining enrollment, we're not getting allocations (from the state) when we're supposed to, we're getting budget cuts after the fact," Mantooth said of having to deal with issues not under district control as they work to balance the budget.

One of the proposals is to reduce the school year by five days, from 180 instructional days to 175. That is just a proposal, said officials, and Escalon Unified Teachers Association representative Ray Roncale said the association would have to look at it carefully before agreeing to the option.

"We have to make cuts," Mantooth said of finding ways to reduce operating expenses. "One of the ways we can is to reduce the school year."

Those attending had a lengthy list of questions, ranging from whether there would be increases in health care costs to the loss in net pay associated with the proposed reduction of the school calendar.

Mantooth said there is a meeting with the health consortium on May 6 and the district should have a better idea of health care costs following that meeting. The loss in net pay based on the calendar reduction, he said, would vary depending on the status of the individual employees, from position to years of service.

Under the proposal, changes in pay could vary as greatly as a loss of $99 for the year to a lost of just under $1500, while those in another category would actually gain in pay.

The district chose a new superintendent at the Tuesday night school board meeting the night before Mantooth's session with employees and he said that contract, with newly hired Ron Costa, "includes language" that his contract would also be five days less if the district makes the cut.

"He understands that," Mantooth said of Costa.

As far as the previously issued pink slips, Mantooth said they went 'across the board' to all grade levels and departments.

With enrollment dropping, the school continues to lose ADA funds and has to find ways to make up that lost revenue. Mantooth said it is hoped that the district "will be able to preserve most jobs."

The district remains "steadfast" in wanting to keep its employees, he added.

"As much as possible, we want to maintain staff and maintain programs," Mantooth said. "If you let staff go and you let programs go, it's hard to get them back."

Other questions focused on the budget reserve the district maintains and Mantooth said the cushion is to help make sure they can meet obligations in the future. Schools must budget out two years in advance, he explained, so having the reserve helps show that the district can meet its current and future financial obligations. Still, some of the reserve will likely go to help make up shortfalls this year.

Furlough days, fundraisers and 'pay to play' options for school activities were some of the suggestions offered by the audience members, as well as looking at the outlying rural schools.

"This superintendent and this board will not institute closure of our rural school," Mantooth said.

By the end of the session, there were still more questions than answers, and Roncale and Mantooth agree there are tough negotiations ahead but hopes are that the majority of jobs can be saved, though it likely will take the loss of some instructional days as a trade off.

"It's a fact that whatever happens, there will be less people affected in the end if all teachers take the five days," Mantooth said.