By GIUSEPPE RICAPITO

The Union Democrat

In the wake of the Calaveras Unified School District teachers strike in October and a subsequent 4 percent salary increase for the teachers, the district issued eight preliminary layoff notices in February to sustain budgetary obligations.

In April, seven-and-a-half of those layoffs will be rescinded due to retirements and resignations, said Superintendent Mark Campbell, but the district remains in a tenuous financial state with a projected $1.8 million dollar deficit three years out.

The layoff notices, Campbell said, were “a necessary thing to do politically, but fiscally or budgetarily it was not the right thing to do. It’s a delicate balance because you want to take care of your people and find that balance, but not at the cost of other people and programs.”

Eight teachers on the lowest end of the district-wide seniority list, two from Calaveras High School and six from county elementary schools, were issued the layoff notices in February.

By the conclusion of the school year, three Toyon Middle School teachers will retire, four will resign from Calaveras High School, one vacancy will not be filled, and a half-time layoff will remain in place, Campbell said.

Campbell said that some, but not all, of the resignations were from teachers who were issued preliminary layoff notices.

Calaveras Unified Educators Association President Lorraine Angel denied that the salary increases, which went into effect in January and included a retroactive salary increase for the preceding months of the school year, had deepened the district’s fiscal shortfalls any more than had already been anticipated before October negotiations began.

They like to make the excuse that they are paying staff more, that’s why they have to make these reductions,” she said. “The teachers have never said there’s endless supply of money there, however in order to be able to staff our schools we need to be competitive with neighboring school districts where a lot of our teachers are going to.”

The Calaveras teacher’s union conducted a four-school-day strike from Oct. 19 through 24, picketing and organizing in front of the district office on the outskirts of Valley Springs and outside of Calaveras High School.

Elementary schools were opened for two days after a two-day closure and staffed with substitutes, but Calaveras High School remained closed for the duration of the strike.

In the agreed contract, the 2017-18 teacher salary schedule was amended from a base salary in “Step 1” of $41,100 to a new minimum base salary at $44,171, a 4 percent increase.

The teacher’s union originally proposed a 6.5 percent increase, which the district countered with a 2 percent increase.

The new maximum salary is $89,769, an increase from $82,199. The maximum figures do not include master’s degree or PhD stipends, which can increase the total salary by a few thousand dollars. Two “anniversary” tenure ranges for teachers with more than 12 years of experience in the district were also expanded to four with additional increases at each level.

“You can make a direct connection to the settlement,” Campbell said. “We had to make staffing reductions anyway, but simplistically put, reaching that agreement increased our deficit, which increased our need to make staffing reductions.”

Angel said that the union still has persistent concerns about the impact of teacher shortages on classroom sizes, especially in the higher grade levels.

A state law, as well as the new contract, mandates a 24-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio in grades kindergarten through third in county schools.

Angel said high-school age students will be most impacted, citing cuts to science and the fine arts.

Campbell said more cuts are likely on the horizon as the district struggles to remain in “qualified status,” which still means that it may not meet its financial obligations in the current and two subsequent fiscal years.

With the current reductions, the district will run a $1.8 million deficit, Campbell said.

The salary increases, as well continued deficit spending, mandates that the district be prepared to cut more than $2.7 million from the budget, he said.

Certificated, classified and management salaries make up about 84 percent of the district’s $30 million budget, about 60 percent of which comes from property taxes and 40 percent from state funding.

Prior to the negotiations, $900,000 in cuts were already anticipated to keep the district within qualified status and accounted for about seven total teacher salaries.

“Prior to 2017 those were anticipated cuts, those were not new numbers,” Angel said of the current layoff notices. “It’s distressing … but whether they follow through with them or not is another thing.”

In the meantime, the union is still in a dispute with the district over language in the salary schedule of the agreement, which placed certain teachers below where they should have been on the pay scale, Angel said.

During a 2014-15 financial crisis, the district made $2.1 million in budget cuts, which included teacher layoffs.

The district is also seeking additional money-saving measures, Campbell said, such as “program configuration changes, possibly moving the Gold Strike High School campus to Calaveras High School, or increasing the student body of Toyon Middle School to sixth through eighth grade.

“In June we will have a better idea,” he said of the budget, but noted that the second interim still showed the increasing deficit spending.

“If we are running out of places to make budget reductions. It makes the discussions at the negotiating table a lot more challenging,” he said.

Calaveras Unified School District has an enrollment of 2,904 students at Calaveras High School, Toyon Middle School, Gold Strike High School, San Andreas Elementary, Railroad Flat Elementary, West Point Elementary, Mokelumne Hill Elementary, Valley Springs Elementary and Jenny Lind Elementary.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com .

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