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Cuts on table hit $13.75M

Manteca Unified’s top budget man retiring immediately

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POSTED January 7, 2009 12:25 a.m.

Michael Dodge has been a key figure for the Manteca Unified School District since 2002

But on late Tuesday, the assistant superintendent of business services announced his retirement effective immediately.

“He’ll continue to work with the district as a consultant,” Acting Superintendent Jason Messer said following the budget reduction advisory committee meeting.

Dodge provided no reason for his retirement. But the move could also come as a savings to the district under the interim restructuring of the school board-approved Level 1 cuts, according to Messer, who relied on Dodge to provide some of the dollar amounts on certain items for the advisory committee.

Because of the hiring freeze, the district is holding off in its search of a replacement, leaving only Messer and Don Halseth, assistant superintendent of personnel, at the top administrative positions.  

Thus far, the 100-member group consisting of seven subcommittees — consolidated schools, class size reduction, transportation, secondary education, staffing, efficiency, and special education — identified some Level 2 cuts that could amount to an estimated $8.5 million in savings.

“The impact of these cuts in position is significant but this package can be achieved through attrition and the reassignment of staff into frozen position,” Messer said.

Add that to the Level 1 cuts ($5.25 million) and Manteca Unified, is at $13,750,000, or $250,000 shy of its goal of $14 million.

The difference could come from the Level 3 items.

Messer made mention of some of the unknowns such as the fiscal crisis taking place in Sacramento coupled with the freezing of funds in order to get through the remainder of the year.

“But it’s important that we finish the task at hand (of cutting $14 million from the general fund),” he said.

The possible Level 2 cuts outlined Tuesday include redefining neighborhood busing boundaries ($55,000); charging an athletic participation fee ($315,000); bringing special education transportation in-house ($140,000); eliminating or restructuring the role of high school dean of activities ($120,000); reducing four counselor positions ($260,000); restructuring and reducing athletic contracts ($50,000); eliminating senior projects ($65,000); eliminating department chair stipends ($125,000); reducing campus monitors at the high schools ($170,000); provide incentives to retire early for all employee groups (undetermined); closing all facilities one day a week during a five-day work week when students are not in attendance ($3,000); continue hiring freeze ($1.5 million); setting air conditioning and heat at reasonable levels at all school sites and the district office ($350,000); eliminating classified staff uniforms ($14,000); and eliminating sending payroll checks via mail ($12,000) along with progress reports or report cards ($22,000).

The subcommittees also discussed closing the Sequoia Annex, Lathrop Annex and consolidating New Haven and Calla High at New Vision in Weston Ranch as Level II cuts.

The advisory committee tackled 400 suggestions with each having some sort of dollar amount, ranking each on the three levels of cut. “They had to do their best interpretation,” Messer said.

Special education, for example, included some compliance issues and legal issues with time lines.

“It takes just one lawsuit to go from paying millions rather than saving millions,” added Woodward School Principal Roger Goatcher, speaking on behalf of the Special Education subcommittee.

But when it comes to transportation, Manteca Unified could take over from Laidlaw company.

“I think it would be a good move,” said New Haven Principal David O’Leary, who serves on the Transportation subcommittee. “We can do the job in-house for less money.”

As for redefining neighborhood busing boundaries. The plan to realign could affect some students who are currently attending Joshua Cowell, Shasta, and New Haven. “It would not eliminate bus drivers,” O’Leary said.

Charging an athletic participation fee — included is bus travel — could serve as a financial burden to some families.

The committee, however, is suggesting that booster clubs can help defray the cost by 75 percent or better.

Messer, meanwhile, is hoping to make the suggested Level 2 cuts a consensus among the committee before presenting the plan to the board at next Tuesday’s meeting.

At tonight’s session, he’s allowing each of the committees a chance to remove any Level 2 item. That’s provided the move gets the support from at least 10 members.

In addition, the advisory group will discuss the Level 3 items on the list.

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