Patterson schools curtail spending

PATTERSON -- With budget cuts looming, Patterson Joint Unified School District announced Wednesday that it is freezing spending on all nonessential materials and might cut 30 staff positions.

The move is in response to Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed $101 billion spending plan that cuts funds to virtually every function of state government to close a $14.5 billion budget gap.

The governor's plan asks lawmakers to suspend schools' constitutional funding guarantee under Proposition 98 for $4 billion in savings for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Schwarzenegger proposes $400 million in cuts to schools this fiscal year.

"We decided to react early and that way, if it changes, we can allow funds to flow back to the school site," said Steve Menge, assistant superintendent of administrative services.

Menge sent a memo to district administrators and staff Wednesday outlining proposed reductions of about $1.66 million from a budget of $28 million. The school district also posted an update on its Web site notifying the community.

"We must plan for the worst, hope for the best and advocate vigorously," Superintendent Patrick Sweeney wrote in the update. He encouraged parents to send letters to the governor and lawmakers to convince them "to do what's right for students."

Spending on all materials that are not essential to the classroom, such as office equipment and furniture, was frozen starting Wednesday. That's expected to save the district $50,000 to $60,000 this year, Menge said.

To meet the remaining budget shortfall, the district is looking at cutting 30 positions, including teachers, administration and classified personnel.

The reductions would be done through attrition and retirements, with layoffs as a last resort, Menge said. They would take effect July 1.

"If the governor changes course and they don't follow his whole proposal, we formed a budget advisory committee to make recommendations to the board," Menge said. "They will prioritize what comes back into place first."

The Patterson Joint Unified School District has 5,400 students. It is building a new school for kindergarten through eighth grade that is scheduled to open in 2009. The budget reductions will not impact construction of the school, which is funded by developer and mitigation fees, Menge said.

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Christina Salerno can be reached at csalerno@modbee.com or 238-4574.