DENAIR — In an emotional board meeting under the critical eyes of hundreds of parents and community members Thursday night, the Denair Unified School District board began pushing ahead with urgent cuts for this academic year and layoff notices for 2013-14.
Wiping the necessary $1 million in costs off its books in the next year and a half will put the district well on its way toward the financial stability demanded by state and county budget overseers.
Don Gatti, head of the business division at the Stanislaus County Office of Education, said the county would help Denair Unified through this school year if cuts were in place for 2013-14 to bring the district back into the black.
"You ran out of cash last May," he said before the board Thursday. "We've given you loans to keep you afloat. This is really, really serious."
No other Stanislaus County school district has ever found itself in such fiscal crisis, which if not solved could lead to a state takeover. Even as enrollment declined the past few years, Denair leaders budgeted as if it would rise and did not reduce staff, decisions that put off the financial day of reckoning until now.
With a series of votes late Thursday night, board members:
Folded the independent-study Denair Charter Academy into the district for 2013-14, bringing those at-risk students back onto the district attendance rolls. It will become Denair Academy alternative school and would bring an estimated $238,000 in additional attendance funding.
Eliminated the charter's 18 hourly teaching positions for 2013-14, saving an estimated $466,000. Existing Denair district teachers will take on the charter students.
Made permanent the elimination of the maintenance supervisor laid off for the last five months of this school year, a $70,000 annual savings. This passed 4-1 the only vote that wasn't unanimous with Robert Hodges dissenting.
Made a full-year salary cut of 3.5 percent for 15 nonunion management employees ($40,000) and a 10 percent cut volunteered by Superintendent Ed Parraz ($12,000). Two board members, Louisa Allen and Julian Wren, also gave up their annual $4,000 stipends.
The entire staff taking a 3.5 percent cut would save $350,000 over a full year about what the district needs to save this school year but unions still have to negotiate reductions.
Eliminated four teaching slots for 2013-14, despite strong audience opposition and pleas from middle school students to save a physical education instructor. The positions are one half-time kindergarten teacher, a high school math teacher and English/drama teacher, and the PE teacher. A music teaching job was saved with a last-minute motion by Wren.
The board actions wipe the four positions off the books, saving the district about $188,000, but the individuals' status will not be final until June. Possible retirements, resignations or higher kindergarten sign-ups could open other slots in the district.
Judy Sylvester, Denair Unified's deputy superintendent of business services, told the board the district will end this school year with a $55,000 reserve $335,000 below what's required. Denair needs a 5 percent reserve, she said, even higher than the state requires, to ward off enrollment drops, midyear cuts or the federal government's "fiscal cliff."
With an eye on the future, Sylvester warned that beyond balancing its budget, the district must not use one-time revenue for hiring, must look years ahead and must resist short-term fixes.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.