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School layoffs spark heated debate

By: Don Chaddock, The Telegraph
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Up to 59 people could be getting pink slips within a few weeks, according to the Folsom Cordova Unified School District Board of Education. The board made their case to a packed room Thursday evening at Folsom High School, outlining the deficit they are facing and the uncertainty of the state’s budget. Superintendent Patrick Godwin said the state is essentially going into debt to the school district. “That state is going to owe us money some day when the economy recovers,” Godwin said. In the short-term, the school district is looking at laying off what are called “classified” personnel, such as custodians, librarians, maintenance staff, technology specialists and special education assistants. The district is also considering the elimination of some sports programs and electives, such as the Regional Occupational Program (known as ROP) and Future Homemakers of America – Home Economics Related Occupations, or FHA-HERO, and culinary classes. Recent graduate Wendy Morales spoke in favor of saving the programs. “ROP gave me the opportunity to have an internship at a local restaurant and allowed me to have hands-on experience,” Morales said. “Being an active member of FHA has helped me on my career path.” Angelica Miklos, a teacher, questioned the reasoning of laying people off when school wasn’t in session. “I have some statistics for you,” she said. “Twenty percent of our teachers have been laid off or have a layoff notice in their hands. We’re one of only a few districts in the state doing summer layoffs and that hasn’t been done since the 1980s.” Jean Schumpelt, an employee at Folsom Middle School, said she doesn’t understand why so many wasteful decisions have been made. “At Folsom Middle School, 27 percent of our staff won’t be there,” Schumpelt said. “We are raping the schools.” She said she must now leave her computer running all the time and send e-mail notices, rather than use the public address system in the school. She urged the district to take a look at the 2000 budget and try to work from there. “At home, I’ve cut out some things and have gone back to my own 2000 budget,” Schumpelt said. Blaine White, a counselor, said the layoffs would be devastating to students. “As one of the nine counselors who received a pink slip, I want people to understand it represents about a 30 percent cut,” White said. He said students need counselors to help them with college applications, choosing electives and, if those electives are cut, to help them enroll in suitable electives outside of the school. Donna Thompson, president of the Parent-Teacher-Student Association, hoped all sides could work something out to save jobs and keep cuts far from the students. “I want to focus on what we can do,” Thompson said. “We want you to complete negotiations to save jobs and keep it from affecting our classrooms. This is our children’s future.” Godwin assured the packed room the budget proposal represents a “worst-case” scenario. “We ask you to be patient while we work through the negotiation process,” Godwin said. Steve Hanson, president of the California School Employees Association, said while they have been in negotiations with the district, it is difficult to get a member vote since most of the members aren’t working. “There are many positions that have been vacant or unfunded and we’re now finding out they won’t fill those positions,” Hanson said. “Furloughs are a viable option. Of course, they are still a pay cut.” Hanson said his organization, which represents the currently targeted “classified” employees, are looking for some commitments from the district. “We’re hopeful, but we’re looking for something beyond the 2009-10 issue,” Hanson said. “We’d like to do long-term planning so we don’t have to go through this process again. We don’t want them coming back for a second drink from the well.” Hanson said it’s a difficult issue, but he hopes the district understands the position of the union. “If we’re going to do our part, we hope the district would do their part,” he said. Mark Schultz, president of the Folsom Cordova Education Association, said he too is hopeful that agreements can be reached that will save jobs. The group represents the teachers in the district. “We had some productive meetings on June 17 and June 29,” Schultz said. “We have a meeting planning for July 10. We are optimistic solutions can be found.” Bill Miklos questioned the spending practices of the district. “You folks just approved a $56 million district office,” Miklos said. “In 2002, to build a new Folsom High School was $54 million and in 2007, it was $94 million to build Vista del Lago High School. … I challenge the district to be square with the voters of this city.” Godwin said if they decide to issue pink slips, they expect a judge will need to rule on the matter sometime by mid-July. Don Chaddock may be reached at donc@goldcountrymedia.com.