High school district reduces staff

Skye Kinkade

During a somber special meeting of the Siskiyou Union High School District last week, the board reluctantly made the decision to reduce their certificated staff by the equivalent of 9 full time employees.

The layoffs come after the passing of California’s budget last month, which revealed deep gouges in educational funding.

“These cuts will dramatically impact all our school sites... We’re looking at a 20% reduction in funding from the state,” said superintendent Mike Matheson. “We’re definitely not alone in the layoff process... school districts have been up to their ears in the past weeks gathering information about the state budget, trying to figure out how to handle this situation.”

Even with careful pruning of district spending, a balanced budget could not be possible without the layoff of staff.

Matheson explained that the SUHSD is preparing for the worst case scenario, and that March 15 is the deadline for school districts to inform employees of a possible layoff for the 2009-2010 school year.  Hopefully, Matheson said, the District will be able to bring at least two teachers back, but questions still remain as to  how much funding education will get from the Federal Stimulus Package.

The portion of stimulus money California receives from Washington will go to the Governor’s office to be doled out, Matheson said, but distribution will probably not occur until after the state’s special election in May.

During that election, California voters will be asked to approve 9 separate measures to help the state dig its way out of debt, and California’s recently passed budget relies on the success of those measures.

“There is no plan in place for a backup if the measures aren’t successful,” Matheson said, “so the education budget could be reduced further...   until the end of May, districts probably won’t know for certain about their funding, leaving lots of teachers hanging on strings.”

Another piece of the approved budget allows for school districts to have increased flexibility with categorical funds for the next four years. That way, money allotted categorically can be swept into the general fund in order to allow schools to continue to function. “We’ll have more control over less money,” was Matheson’s wry remark.

“We’ve been forced to strip our program down to the bone,” Matheson continued. “As ideas continue to develop, and funding becomes more clear, we can begin putting things back together and continue to redesign and recreate what we do for students.”

Through input from the community, teachers, and administration via District Advisory Committee meetings, a priority list of services has been compiled, which will guide in the rebuilding of SUHSD programs.

“We will maintain solid core academic and elective courses at each site,” said Matheson, “and we intend to have each school identify a “specialty area” that goes beyond the core... for instance, Mount Shasta High School has always had a superior music program; Weed has had trouble maintaining theirs. If students are interested in music, they could be transported [to MSHS] for that particular program. We are looking at delivering education to students in new ways, giving them more flexibility. Eventually, even with a reduction in staff, we could actually broaden our offerings to students. That’s our goal.”

In addition to reducing staffing costs, the district is looking at other cost saving measures for 2009-2010 and beyond, including no new textbook purchases, an administrative step and column salary freeze, no overtime or classified substitutes, and reductions in counseling, administration, classified staff, site budgets, operations budgets, technical support, and athletics programs.

Following Matheson’s careful explanation of the absolute necessity of teacher layoffs, board member Sue Tavalero made the motion to approve the resolution to reduce certified staff, which Margaret DeBortoli reluctantly seconded.

The motion was unanimously approved with heavy hearts and much consternation by all of the SUHSD board members.