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Its time to survive & thrive
Start of school year Monday will be a new ball game
A number of students who were bused to school last school year will be getting to campus using other forms of transportation or walking when the 2009-10 school year starts Monday. - photo by Bulletin file photo
Brace yourself for Monday.

It won’t be the start of a typical school year.

“Nobody felt any cuts last school year,” noted Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Jason Messer. “We just froze spending in some areas. Most (of the) layoffs were made after July 1.”

The things that will be noticeable when school starts Monday include:

•School buses won’t be picking up a number of students no-bus zones have been extended around neighborhood campuses.
•Athletes will have to pay $75 a year in transportation fees.

•Classroom basics such as paper and other items will be in short supply due to delays in the receipt of state funding.

•Some classrooms will be overcrowded - some with as many as 45 students – until administrators can sort through things.

“It may take up to two weeks to get students moved,” Messer said.

That’s because with cutbacks due to the need to trim the budget by over $31 million, staffing was cut as tight as possible. The district will work to try and even classes out at various grade levels that are impacted. They also have the luxury – if you could call it that – of having $116,000 they cut too much to hire back a teacher at whatever grade level is the most impacted by excessive enrollment.

The district – not knowing exactly what would happen with the state budget – made an educated projection that they would lose $31.5 million in revenue. They missed the mark by going over $316,000 what ended up being the final state-mandated cut. On the other hand, they don’t need additional cuts at the start of the school year. The district will take $200,000 of the $316,000 to cover a shortfall in transportation funding that the state passed down in May.

Enrollment changes and fine tuning of state cuts and Manteca Unified finances allowed the district to not lay off 90 of the 230 teachers that got pink slips in June.

Messer noted that there was a lot of give and take in reshaping the budget to fit the new economic realities.

As an example, the $75 transportation fee won’t cover 100 percent of the cost but it will allow the district to keep busing students to and from out-of-town contests. The loss of busing for some students may not be viewed well by some parents who are impacted but the only other choice was to cut deeper into the classroom.

Besides the teachers who have lost their jobs this school year due to the need to lay off staff as the result of state funding cuts, personnel across the board are sharing in the pain:

•There were classified employees who lost their jobs plus those remaining took a 5 percent pay cut.

•Administrators took a 5 percent cut.

•Teachers have given up three in-service days to help keep intact 183 teaching days plus agreed to drop stipends for department heads for a 1.8 percent pay cut.

The 2009-10 budget while it contains no cost of living increases for any employees including teachers. The teachers, though, do keep intact the longevity and step raises for teachers. The district jumps salaries at certain bench marks of service. The step raises refer to teachers who complete continuing education needed to update and sharpen their knowledge and skills.

Overall, a number of teachers will end up making it through the current school year with a slight increase or being able to tread water at the same salary level as last school year once step raises and longevity pay is taken into account.

Little changes have been happening over the summer. District office hours, as an example, are no longer from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and instead have been cut back to 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“We’ve had staff cutbacks and the remaining staff has to still do the work,” Messer said. “They need some time when they are not interrupted to handle it.”
Messer said things are not going to be the same as they were in previous years.

“Some teachers are treating this as a teachable moment,” Messer said of the current fiscal crisis that has has forced drastic school budget cuts.

Messer noted that those who lived through the Great Depression take a different attitude on what is happening now than someone who didn’t.

“We’ve talked a lot about this with staff,” Messer said. “We are going to be doing things with a lot less money but we are still going to teach kids and (be successful.)”

Messer said the district – teachers, support staff and students – will “survive and thrive.”