Superintendent: Budget is worst-case scenario

Guest column
By: Deborah Bettencourt, Superintendent of Folsom Cordova Unified School District
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Open letter to the parents of Folsom Cordova Unified School District students: The governor released his 2012-13 budget proposal last month. Education is, once again, a pawn for the politicians. Gov. Brown has proposed a November ballot initiative that would protect education funding in 2012-13 and keep it at the same level as 2011-12. But, if the November initiative fails, education funding for our district will be reduced by $6.6 million in the middle of the school year of 2012-13. Our children’s education is being held hostage through the November ballot initiative process. We have been advised by the Sacramento County Office of Education to adopt our budget by June for 2012-13 based on the Governor’s worst case scenario, which is another round of cuts totaling $6.6 million. In the past two years, we cut $21 million from our educational budget: $13.2 million in 2010-11 and $7.8 million this school year. Honestly, as we review our current budget, to make $6.6 million in reductions would be severe and draconian, adversely affecting our students and causing us to lose more good teachers, aides and support personnel like nurses, bus drivers and counselors. We have implemented layoffs and reductions in educational opportunities each year for the past four years. We are staffed at the absolute minimum without jeopardizing safety of students and educational quality. Our libraries are only open one to two days a week. Classrooms are only cleaned every three days. Textbook and instructional material budgets have been reduced by 50 percent, while class size has increased across all grade levels. Critical support areas such as counseling, campus security, health and technology have all seen major cuts. There isn’t $6.6 million of non-classroom expenditures left to cut. We have already redirected special state funded programs (Categorical Tier 3 programs) to support core classroom needs over the past four years. For example, the Elementary and Secondary Class Size Reduction programs have been eliminated. School and Library Improvement Program (SLIP) and the Arts, Music, and PE State Grants have been redirected. The Supplemental Counseling Grant now pays for basic counseling services rather than supplemental services. Adult Education funds have been redirected to K-12 programs. State textbook and instructional material funds have been redirected to teacher salaries. The annual professional development day for teachers has been eliminated and the funding redirected towards classroom expenses. Other programs such as GATE, special education, summer school and interventions have all been reduced. We don’t want to go through the exercise of issuing layoff notices that are harmful to students and staff while we wait for the politics to be resolved through the November election results. Instead of massive layoffs, we will work with our employee groups to develop contingency language for employee concessions (i.e. furlough days, step/column freeze, or salary roll-backs) should the November initiative for education funding not be successful. Although there will still be some layoffs, related to program needs and changes in operations of the district, we will not be seeking board approval of significant reductions in program or employees through the layoff process. It is a risky move for us because if we don’t reach agreement, the County Office of Education will change our fiscal rating from qualified to negative. Based on the experience of other districts who have had a negative fiscal rating, we should avoid it. We don’t want the County Office to insert itself into the employee negotiations and fiscal matters of the district. We are thankful that all employees have helped with the fiscal crisis by taking three furlough days in each of the past three school years, with management taking more furlough days, six days, in 2009-10. We fully expect to have cooperative and productive discussions with employee groups regarding contingency plans within the next month. Deborah Bettencourt, Superintendent, Folsom Cordova Unified School District