The good news is, there’s a state-of-the-art elementary school that will open this fall to serve Rancho Murieta’s children. But the long-awaited Cosumnes River Elementary School arrives during a state funding crisis that has the Elk Grove Unified School District looking for ways to cut $60.5 million from its 2010-2011 budget. Class sizes are being increased as staffing for classrooms and libraries is being cut and programs are being dropped. School officials fear the situation could get worse when a revised version of the state budget is released this month.
“That’s what everyone’s waiting for right now,” Elizabeth Graswich, director of communications for the school district, said Tuesday.
The reduction in education funding in the governor’s January budget meant the school district had to send out 760 preliminary layoff notices to meet a March deadline mandated by law. The school district was able to rescind 295 of the notices in April through attrition, an early retirement program and other cost-saving measures. An agreement between the school district and the Elk Grove Education Association for two furlough days this school year resulted in $2.5 million in savings and restored 29 counseling positions. That’s less than half the number now employed for the district’s 62,000 students, Graswich said.
The school district is required to send out a second layoff notice by May 15, but it’s not necessarily the final notice. “In past years we’ve continued to rescind notices all the way through to the beginning of the following school year,” Graswich said. “... There are many teachers in our district that have received pink slips now three years in a row. ... These young teachers, they’re passionate, they’re good, they’re excited to be in the classroom and yet they also have mortgages, bills and everything else. ... This is happening up and down the state. It’ll be interesting to see the long term impact it has on the teaching profession.”
Budget cuts over the past three years total $100 million, she said. The district’s current operating budget is $478 million and 88 percent is spent on employee compensation, according to a financial update the school district presented in February.
“After you cut, cut, cut, there’s not a lot left to cut this year, and so it’s really a difficult year and it’s the biggest of all the years we’ve had to cut,” Graswich said.
Elk Grove used reserves the first year to cushion the budget blow after the state cut funding. The next year, there were federal dollars available.
This year, Elk Grove Unified will be making changes that it had managed to avoid those years. Kindergarten through third grade class sizes will increase from 20 students to 28. Other school districts had a higher student-to-teacher ratio this school year and are looking at classes of 30-plus going forward, Graswich said.
Another cost-cutting measure involves shifting 12 elementary schools with multi-track, year-round schedules to traditional or modified traditional scheduling for a savings of $300,000 per school. Cosumnes River Elementary is already on a traditional schedule.
A voluntary contribution for participation in athletic programs is in place, along with a reduction in freshman sports. “There’s a lot of community fundraising going on,” Graswich said.
Library technicians and librarians face “fairly large” potential layoffs.
But not all the changes involve subtracting something from the school experience. Elk Grove Unified School District is beginning the enrollment process for a new program, a “virtual academy” that offers online classes from kindergarten through grade 12. Students will interact with teachers online and also have the option of face-to-face time, and tests will take place in a proctored, classroom setting.
The district hopes to bring students that have gone to other online programs and to home schooling back into the district, which would generate revenue for the district. “It’s another option for students that are looking for a different way of getting their education,” Graswich said. “We’re trying to reach out to them.”
The school district is required by law to submit a three-year balanced budget by June 30. Since the state budget is unlikely to be passed by then, “It could be a long time until we know exactly how much money we’re going to have,” Graswich said.