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12 schools: Will one or more close?

Manteca Unified facing $14M in budget cutbacks

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12 schools: Will one or more close?

Lathrop High is among the schools on a list facing possible closure or consolidation for the upcoming 2009-10 school year.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED December 9, 2008 8:47 p.m.
It’s a list no one wants to see — school campuses that are candidates for closure.
The schools include Lathrop High, Sequoia Annex, McParland Annex, Lathrop Annex, Nile Garden, Joshua Cowell, New Haven, French Camp, Veritas, Calla High, New Vision High, and Manteca Day School.
They are part of different campus closure and consolidation combinations a sub-committee of the acting superintendent’s budget reduction process is exploring to determine how much money can be saved in a bid for the Manteca Unified to devise a list of $14 million in budget cuts for the school year that starts July 1. California’s continuing state budget problems — a $28 billion budget deficit projected through June 30, 2010 — is forcing Manteca Unified to find ways to reduce spending.
The sub-committee Monday established parameters on how the district office will go about determining potential financial savings. No recommendation was made on whether to proceed with recommendations on what to cut.
Once the sub-committee has financial figures in hand when they meet Wednesday, they will take the next step at assigning impacts — financial and otherwise. Once they have done that, they are then being asked to either group a proposed cut as “Level II” or “Level III.”
Level I cuts that are tagged at $4 million have already gone to the board. The level II cuts proposed are those the overall committee has come to a consensus on and would be advanced to the board in February. Acting Superintendent Jason Messer said the hope is the board would adopt Level II cuts. Even so, Messer fears that the cuts will have to go to Level III to make the $14 million threshold. Level III cuts in all likelihood will include most proposals to close or consolidate schools.
The proposals being explored further after Monday’s subcommittee meeting are:
• Closing Lathrop High and returning students to Sierra High and Weston Ranch High.
• Closing McParland Annex, Sequoia Annex, and Lathrop Annex.
• Closing Nile Garden, New Haven, Joshua Cowell, Veritas, and/or French Camp.
• Consolidating all alternative education sites — New Vision High, Calla High, and Manteca Day School — into one location, possibly the Sequoia Annex.
• Combining Calla High with Manteca High as well as combining New Vision High with Weston Ranch High
• Closing Manteca Day School.
The final decision on any school closures or consolidation is reserved for the Manteca Unified board. The goal is to have the board make a closure decision — if it comes down to that to reach the $14 million threshold of cutbacks — prior to March 15. That way credentialed staff that consists of teachers and most administrators could be noticed by that date to allow the plan to go into place at the start of the next school year in August.
State law requires credentialed staff that is not tenured to be noticed by March 15 if they have a job in the upcoming school year.
The task of identifying cuts is complicated further by the fact each proposed reduction impacts others.
Closing Joshua Cowell would mean virtually all of those students would need to be bused. It would increase transportation costs unless, of course, one of the cuts adopted before ends up wiping out home-to-school bus service. If the district were still busing, closing Cowell would add to busing costs.
Veritas School, on the other hand, already has 90 percent of its students bused so the cost savings closing Veritas School wouldn’t be as great.
Among proposals not advanced to a list of those having savings costs attached included creating junior high schools. It was doubted that changing “the delivery method” of education — a major departure from the current kindergarten through eighth grade model — would save money.
At the same time, a proposal floated to turn Lathrop High into a junior high didn’t get any traction. Such a proposal would have had at least seventh and eighth graders from the Lathrop schools go to Lathrop Junior High and possible ninth graders and students from elsewhere. Also not going anywhere was taking advantage of excess capacity at Sierra High to put in place a junior high academy similar to what is taking place at Weston Ranch High with seventh and eighth graders. Such a move would free up space in elementary schools feeding into Sierra High and possibly allowing consolidation to close a campus. The idea did not go forward.

Vexing budget process
Among the Level I cuts already on the table are:
• reducing the district administrative staff by six positions and shifting the work to others and eliminating seven school site administrators to save $800,000.
• reducing district support staff by $500,000.
• the continuation of a hiring freeze to save $500,000.
• reducing lottery and educational services funding by $1,500,000.
The hiring freeze is relatively painless. The district loses about 40 of its 2,300 teachers a year through attrition — retirement and resignations.
The elimination of site administrators, though, may end up doing one of the two things the board said it wanted to possibly avoid at all costs — layoffs.
Site administrators with tenure will be reassigned to teaching potions. If enough teachers haven’t resigned or retired, that means pink slips will go out. And that must occur before March 15 under state law, as that is the last date to notify credentialed personnel whether they have a job for the following year.
It sounds crazy to those not familiar with school finance to have to start making cuts now instead of waiting until June when the numbers are more solid. But school financing in California isn’t a logical process.
State law stipulates a lot of requirements that districts must follow. They can’t cut personnel for the upcoming year —in this case the 2008-09 school year – unless they do it by March 15. That requirement is in spite of the fact they have to put together a budget by June 30 even though the state is required until July 1 to tell them how much money they have to work with it. And, in recent years, the state hasn’t even adopted a budget by July 1. That ends up stretching the process well into September when schools have been in session for five weeks in many cases.
The board directed Messer to form a 100-member budget reduction committee — that has been broken down into sub-groups — so the board won’t be caught off guard if the worst does materialize and be forced to make uniformed decisions or not be allowed to do certain things because the groundwork hadn’t been properly laid. But even if the cutbacks aren’t as severe for this year, there is the problem of meeting the state requirement to develop balanced budgets for two years down the road. That means if some of the cuts are one time savings, the district may not be able to meet all of its requirements without further cuts.
The goal is to bring recommended cuts back to the board from the committee in early February. If the board adopts whatever Level II cuts that the group agrees on, Messer figures the odds are that won’t be enough.
That’s when the next round of possible cuts — Level III — come into play. In all likelihood they would involve credentialed personnel. That means the cut must be made before March 15 in order to notify some teachers they may not have a job next year.
Manteca Unified doesn’t want to do what some district do which is simply issue blanket notice that teachers may not have jobs and cut later.
Messer said that’s not a good strategy for two reasons. First, it prompts teachers to look for jobs elsewhere when they really don’t have to. It also creates a logistic nightmare since all 2,300 teachers would have to be served in person.
Messer said the board has two goals — balance the budget as required by law and keep the education of students moving forward.
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