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Calaveras County Schools Face Tough Choices On Budgets

There may not be any new programs starting next year, but the Bret Harte Union High School District won´t have to lay off any teachers either.

The district had notified three certificated employees that they may have been laid off at the end of the school year, but because of some shifts in the state´s budget, district officials believe they can keep the three educators on staff.

“Because we have so many deferrals (nonpayments) from the state, we don´t know when those might come in,” said Superintendent Joseph Wilimek. “We have to be conservative” in preparing next year´s budget.

Gloria Carrillo, the director of business services, said the state is paying for cost of living (COLA) increases this year, but because previous budgets didn´t fund the COLA, this year´s good news is short lived.

“It´s miniscule,” Carrillo said of the COLA payment. She said the governor´s proposed budget will pay a 2.41 percent COLA, but when what´s owed the district from previous years is calculated, the COLA is only about .257 percent.

“If we give step and column raises,” Carrillo said, “that´s usually about 1 percent. This doesn´t even pay for those.”

Step and column raises give employees salary increases for time served in the classroom and longevity.

With projected revenues of $7.79 million, the preliminary budget lists salaries and benefits at $6.53 million as the largest expense. With Carrillo´s figures, the final balance would be $212.10.

Sticker shock at the fuel pumps has Bret Harte officials worried, too.

“If they don´t get a handle on fuel costs,” Carrillo told trustees Monday night, “that could cause us to go into the reserve funds next year.”

Because of the size of the district budget, Carrillo said, the state requires a reserve fund of at least 4 percent.

“We have a balanced budget,” Wilimek said.

He added that the balance was achieved by not replacing staff who retired this year.

“The biggest cuts have been in personnel,” he said.

At the Calaveras Unified School District, administration officials have posted re-hire notices since notifying classified employees they faced layoffs. Altogether, about 12 employees were let go, Superintendent Jim Frost said. Other classified staff n including classroom aids, clerical workers, custodial staff and bus drivers n are enduring “a lot of reduction.”

Those reductions are costing employees in more than reduced wages. Many employees´ hours were cut to below 5.1 hours a day. Employees in the district must work at least that long every day to be eligible for benefits.

The preliminary budget for CUSD lists $25.5 million in projected revenues and $25.5 million in expenditures. Director of Business Services Justin Frese said the 2003-2004 budget had a similar $25.4 million in revenues, but expenditures socked the district to the tune of $28.2 million.

“We had to make $2.8 million in cuts,” Frese said. “This year we have a zero balance budget.”

The Vallecito Union School District will dip into its reserves during this budget cycle, Superintendent Michael Chimente said.

“We are trying to limit deficit spending,” he said. “We´re hoping to deficit spend $100,000.”

That choice came when administrators realized cuts that might have been made – to perhaps the sports or music programs n would have been too drastic and affected the community too adversely, Chimente said.

The dip into the reserves should only happen during this budget year, he said, and the borrowing does not put the district below reserve limits established by the state.

“I´ve got to have a balanced budget next year,” Chimente said. “We´re going to have tough choices to make next spring.”

With about 140 students graduating from Avery Middle School, Chimente said the 90 kindergartners already signed up for fall classes is encouraging, “but we need to edge that up some.”

Rick Brewer, superintendent of the Mark Twain Union Elementary School District said he´s happy he has a balanced preliminary budget for 2004-2005. The COLA from the state allowed he and Gina Reynolds, district business manager, to make up for a deficit incurred when the district had to dip into its reserves last year.

“We are required to maintain a 4 percent reserve,” Brewer said, and 2 percent of that was used last year. “We´re thankful for the COLA.”

The district has about a $5 million budget planned for next year. Two retiring classified employees and the resignation of two teachers helped Brewer and Reynolds make the balance work out.

“We won´t be replacing them,” Brewer said.

The budget has no effect on the district´s plans to build a gymnasium at Mark Twain Elementary School.

“That´s completely separate funding,” Brewer said.

He hopes the Legislature and the Governor quickly agree on a budget.

“Hopefully we get an on-time budget so we know what´s going on.”

Calaveras Enterprise story by Mike Taylor. For more Calaveras news, click: calaverasenterprise.com