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THE FINAL CUT?

It may wipe out busing, close Lathrop High or cut pay for all

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POSTED January 23, 2009 1:47 a.m.
It could end up coming down to one of the big three – transportation, an across-the-board pay cut, or the closing of Lathrop High School.

During an informational meeting held Thursday night at Manteca Unified’s administration building, Interim Superintendent Jason Messer was candid about the options currently on the table for the Board of Education. They may have to cut as much as $23.5 million from their current budget to offset money not coming in due to California’s budget shortfalls.

According to Messer, the already-approved combination of Level  I and II cuts formulated by administrators and the 100-member budget reduction committee will only account for $13 million – leaving an addition $1 million to be identified for removal by the board in order make the June 30 deadline for submission. That, however, is for next year’s budget.

If they have to move on to Level III cuts to weed out an additional $10 million to make up a budget shortfall for the current year created by Sacramento’s current deadlock, Messer said the board will be working with a list that includes the three big ticket items -  an across the board pay cut of anywhere from 1 to 7 percent to save $1million per point, the elimination of all transportation programs to save $3 million, and the closure of Lathrop High School to save $1.4 million.

While the budget reduction committee and the board have worked to try and minimize the impact that the current fiscal crisis will have on programs and keep the impacts as far away from the classroom as possible, Messer said that he found it hard to see how they’ll hit the $10 million mark on the list of Level III items without seriously considering one of the three major items – with the savings of the other proposed eliminations on the list dropping off sharply.

Taking out the full amount will be a big piece of the monetary pie.

With roughly 85 percent of the district’s budget going to cover payroll, the full $23.5 million amount will equate to roughly 14 percent their current budget – leaving the remaining one percent to cover the complete operation of the school district from electricity to transportation.

“With that one percent we have to pay for everything you’d need to run a school district,” Messer said. “Obviously it would cost a lot more than that, and that’s why we need to make cuts in order to be able to afford that.”

Not all of the information presented Thursday night, however, was negative.

At the start of the meeting, Messer said that the information currently coming from the state indicates that the district will continue to receive the money they’re allotted – something that can change instantly and without warning.

When asked about what parents can do to help administrators meet the goal of funding education for their children, Messer urged those in attendance to contact their state legislator to urge them to seek resolution in the matter as soon as possible.

Messer also put together a list of suggested mid-year cuts that he’ll propose to the board when they meet again on Tuesday – a meeting where the budget will be one of the dominant subjects.

Some of the proposals being made to cover the additional $10 million that may be necessary to eliminate include:

• Reducing employee contracts by 2 days and up to five more additional days on top of the three days already approved by the board to save up to $7 million.

• Cleaning every other day at school sites to save $1.25 million.

• Raising class sizes by student for grades 4-12 (and increase from 34 students to 35 students) to save $750,000.

• Eliminating the K-3 class size reduction to save $425,000.

• Eliminating high school transportation to save $425,000.

• Cutting the district’s contribution to the MUST program to save $150,000.

• Offering a $1,000 early bonus for notice of retirement made available to the first 100 full-time certificated employees who submit their paperwork, and early retirement incentives that may include two years of service credit to their CalSTRS fund or a local retirement incentive bonus of up to $30,000.
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