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A closer look at Mt. Diablo district budget cuts

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, March 14th, 2011 at 7:20 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

The Mt. Diablo school board will look at budget-cutting options Tuesday to try to close projected deficits and plan for the possibility that Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax extensions won’t make it onto the June ballot or will fail.

The County Office of Education has asked districts to cut $350 per student and set aside another $300 per student in case the state reduces school funding further to balance its budget.

By 2012-13, the Mt. Diablo district would be $27 million in the red, based on the $350 per student scenario, according to Superintendent Steven Lawrence. However, he isn’t proposing cuts nearly that deep.

Instead, he’s asking the board to assume that the district will achieve more than $6.8 million from three furlough days and reduced benefits contributions, which still need to be negotiated. In addition, Lawrence wants trustees to approve a three-year budget that assumes seven furlough days in 2011-12 and 2012-13, which also need to be negotiated.

Previously, CFO Bryan Richards has said he was unwilling to include these items in the district’s budget, since they weren’t assured.

Here are the cuts from Lawrence’s list that he recommends trustees approve and assume in the district’s three-year budget:

NEGOTIATED ITEMS (WHICH HAVEN’T BEEN VOTED ON BY UNIONS):

10-N4: Limit non-MDEA health care costs to current level: $2.5 million ongoing

10-N6: Reduce teacher calendar by 3 days in 2010-11 and by seven days in 2011-12 and 12-13 (three teaching days in 2010-11; five teaching days and two staff development days in 2011-12 and 12-13): $2.6 million in 2010-122; $6 million ongoing after that

10-N15: Prorate benefits for part-time employees: $1.6 million ongoing

NON-NEGOTIATED ITEMS:

4: Transfer one-time CA High School Exit Exam intervention funds to general fund: $235,000 one-time

5: Transfer funding from Gifted and Talented (GATE) program to general fund (would eliminate GATE funding): $221,272 ongoing

6: Transfer one-time instructional materials funding to general fund: $480,438 one-time

7: Transfer specialized secondary program funding (would eliminate MDHS Arts and Humanities Academy, AHA): $29,610 one-time

8: Transfer one-time teacher professional development funds to general fund: $435,160 one-time

9: Transfer one-time Targeted Instructional Improvement Block Grant funds to general fund: $800,000 one-time

11: Sweep one-time Adult Education funds (would necessitate a dramatic fee increase for all Lifelong Education classes effective July 1 and likely result in significant reduction in classes as student support and interest decreases): $500,000

12: Freeze carryover funds from old state programs that have been eliminated (schools have received the money for the past two years): $930,000 one-time

16: Reduce speech contract funding (reduced need due to staff hires): $600,000 ongoing

17: Reduce Occupational Therapy contracts (fewer students need services): $52,560 ongoing

TOTAL NON-NEGOTIATED CUTS: $4,284,040 ($3.38 million one-time and $903,442 ongoing)

NEGOTIATED CUTS: It’s unclear exactly how much money the district is estimating toward the benefits caps this year. It is estimating nearly $2.6 million for the furlough days this year, then nearly $10.3 million a year ongoing starting in 2011-12 for seven furloughs, plus the benefits cap and proration.

The Mt. Diablo Education Association (MDEA) teachers’ union has reached a tentative agreement for the three furlough days this year, but would need to negotiate future furlough days. Union members and the board haven’t yet approved the tentative agreement.

The district’s other three unions (Local 1 CST, M&O and CSEA) are at impasse. The board expects to approve a $40,000 contract with School Services of California to prepare “fact-finding” information to be presented to mediators appointed by the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB).

Maintenance and Operations rep Dawn Winder told me last Friday that her unit was notified March 4 that the state required fact-finding take place within a 10 work day period. The fact finder, she said, told union members he was willing to extend the time, if both parties agreed.

“Of course, we were in agreement because we just now were receiving the budget, today (March 11, when it was posted with the March 15 agenda),” she said. “The district is unagreeable to extend that timeline, so we’re going Tuesday during the day into fact-finding without all the facts.”

The fact-finding session will take place Tuesday morning, before the board votes on the budget Tuesday night.

“Then, the fact-finder has 30 days to report back and then the district can impose (it’s last, best and final offer),” she said. “And if they do, we can only be imposed upon until June 30. Why didn’t they accept the concessions we wanted to make a year ago?”

I asked Lawrence in an e-mail why the district would want to impose concessions, when it would have to turn around and start negotiating again so soon. Here’s his response:

“If the District imposes its last, best and final offer it becomes the new status quo for fiscal articles such as furlough days, the benefit cap, and proration. While it is true that we must then continue to bargain to reach a negotiated agreement with the unions, the starting point for any new agreement would be the capped and prorated levels previously imposed.”

Winder said union members were willing to pay more toward their health coverage and to take furlough days, but district negotiators wanted more.

“They wanted that proration,” she said. “The proration is a big thing for us.”

Lawrence pointed out in his staff report that the board will have to identify new cuts in its 2013-14 budget, even if the negotiated items are implemented. Yet, he doesn’t expect trustees to go through the cut list item by item on Tuesday, he said.

“I have spoken to the County Office of Ed.,” he said in a voicemail message. “At the second interim, they do not need the specificity in a cut. What they just need to know is that you’ve identified or over-identified enough cuts to make your budget balanced out. For us currently, it would be balanced out through the 12-13 school year. And so based on the number of cuts that are on that list, we would more than meet that obligation and so they are fine with that. So, we don’t have to go in and specifically say, ‘This position would be laid-off.'”

But Winder said she thinks trustees should go through the list item by item and come to a consensus about which cuts they would be willing to make.

“I think that it’s an awful lot of pain to just sweep under the carpet all at once,” she said. “I think that each item should be closely looked at. I didn’t notice any administrator positions on that list.”

On March 8, Board President Gary Eberhart asked Lawrence to bring back an analysis of cuts to the Student Acheivement and School Support (SASS) department, a freeze on overnight out-of-town travel and off-site principal meetings during the day. Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh suggested that more school closures should be added to the list and Trustee Cheryl Hansen asked that the possible sale of Willow Creek Center be added. She has also repeatedly asked that a list of district staff working on post-retirement contracts be made public, based on some people’s assertions that the district is spending too much money on employees who are “double-dipping.”

The school closures and Willow Creek Center sale appear on the new list. The post-retirement contract list and Eberhart’s suggestions are missing.

Instead of reducing SASS, the district is recommending hiring another administrator in the department.

Winder said the extra work her union members have been doing, combined with stalled negotiations, is taking a toll.

“My coworkers are stressed, strained,” she said. “Certainly overworked and underpaid and in a very negative environment. And we have found that our sick time has significantly increased. That’s what happens when your people get really stressed.”

One good thing to come out of the bargaining logjam has been a more unified outlook among the four unions, she said.

“For the first time in 30 years, in Mt. Diablo’s history, all of the organized labor units — MDEA, CST, CSEA and M&O — are meeting on a monthly basis and working together. We’ve been doing this for the past five months. I think it has helped to bring us all closer together. So, it’s no longer the teachers versus the classified. We’re all in the same boat without the paddle.”

Although Lawrence recommends the board approve a “positive” budget, General Counsel Greg Rolen states in item 14.7 that “the district filed its 2010-11 Second Interim Report with a qualified certification.”

He recommends the board ask the county to sell Measure C bonds on its behalf because: “The Education Code requires that school districts with a qualified certification issue bonds through the county.”

Do you support Lawrence’s recommendation to assume the negotiated cuts in the district’s three-year budget? Do you think trustees should discuss each item instead of approving the entire list as a back-up plan? Do you think Eberhart’s ideas should be added to the list?

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