By Iris Wang, Staff Writer
The Acalanes Union High School District Governing Board recently passed two resolutions approving a reduction of current employees and services in the 2015-2016 school year that will affect all four high schools in the district.
The Board approved the two resolutions unanimously at its March 4, 2015
evening meeting. Resolution No. 14-15-15 addressed the projected elimination and/or reduction of certificated employees, the vast majority of who are teachers who provide “Departmentalized Instructional Services” or classes.
In school districts, employee salaries and benefits usually make up almost 90 percent of the entire budget, so in years when districts need to meet target cuts to the budget, they invariably have to reduce their workforce. As the 2014-2015 school year draws to a close, multiple teachers and many administrative staff in the district, the vast majority of which are employed at the district level and not at schools, are projected to be laid off. Nine teachers district-wide have been given “pink slips,” in which five of them belonging to Acalanes.
“The reduction in [classes], or sections, will be distributed between the four high schools based on student signups for courses,” math teacher Ken Lorge said. Lorge is the vice president of Acalanes Education Association (AEA), the union that represents AUHSD teachers, counselors, librarians, and school psychologists.
Resolution No. 14-15-16 approved a district wide reduction of eight classified employees such as administrative assistants, registrars, custodians, and special education instructional assistants.
Lorge further explained how reductions in the number of classes could be made by giving a hypothetical example.
“Let’s say at one school we have 44 signups for an elective subject that has a contract limit of 31 students a class. In years past, when our budget hasn’t been as tight, they might have offered two sections at 22 students a class,” Lorge said. “This year in an effort to tighten the schedule, they might max out one section with 31 students and move the other 13 students into a second or third choice elective. This will result in one less section of this elective subject being offered.”
The AUHSD currently has both full time and part time certificated employees. In terms of teachers, full time employees are defined as those who teach at least five periods a day. Part time teachers teach one to four periods a day.
Class reductions are determined by sections, not teachers, so they can result in either teachers teaching fewer classes or complete layoffs.
State law requires public school districts to give preliminary notices to the teachers whose services may not be required in the next school year by March 15 of the preceding school year. After the annual March 15 deadline, teachers who have not been “pink-slipped” cannot be laid off for the next school year.
“Typically what happens after the deadline is that there’s another date in May where the layoffs are finalized,” AUHSD Business Services Associate Superintendent Chris Learned said. “By May, we will have more information on the state budget, and there will be changes in our budget estimation that could potentially reduce the number of certificated staff that are laid off, but not all employees who are notified in March are absolutely guaranteed to end up being laid off.”
The district is also making budget cuts in other areas as well. All departmental supply budgets are being reduced. The District is planning to close the Acalanes Adult Education School because it will no longer receive funding from the state.
“Our ultimate goal is to reign in our expenses while still preserving the high quality education that the students receive here,” AUHSD Superintendent John Nickerson said.
Since the 2007-2008 school year, dealing with a tight budget has consistently been a problem for the district.
“During the recession, the state underfunded the district by 22 percent, which added up to millions of dollars of lost funding,” Learned said. “For every dollar the district was supposed to receive, we only got 78 cents.”
In 2013, California passed and implemented the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), a new method for the state to provide funding to public schools. Part of the LCFF is the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), the plan that individual school districts develop that determines how they will use funding they receive from the state.
The LCFF and LCAP give schools a base amount of funding per student that is lower than the base amount that schools received under the previous system. However, under the new laws, schools are funded additional dollars for having students that fall within particular target demographics. California public schools now receive additional funding for English Language learners, lower income students, or foster youth.
In the average school district in California, 60 percent of the students are in targeted demographics and thus qualify their schools for additional funding. In districts in Oakland and San Francisco, their student population is 80-90 percent targeted students.
Only 6 percent of students fall within the target demographics in the AUHSD. Under the LCAP and LCFF, even if the state fully funds AUHSD what it qualifies for according to the formula, the district will never return to the inflation-adjusted pre-recession level of funding it had in the 2007-2008 school year.
“Now that we’re coming out of the recession, the state is restoring funding, but since we have [relatively few] target students, the amount of funding we get is not much higher than the base amount,” Nickerson said. “We don’t receive as much as many other districts, and it’s left us in a place where the money isn’t coming quickly enough to get us out of the problem that was left after the recession. We’re still facing a lot of challenges going forward.”
Acalanes Principal Allison Silvestri noted how fortunate Acalanes High School was to have extensive support from the Acalanes Parents Club (APC) and the Lafayette Partners in Education Foundation (LPIE). A major part of APC and LPIE funding for Acalanes High School goes towards providing more academic class sections and supporting electives such as the computer science, engineering, instrumental and choral music, and drama programs.
“That being said, there are still teachers that will be laid off,” Silvestri said. “And that will be hard for all of us because they are the pillars of our community.”