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Layoff notices go out to teachers - Home prices suspect in declining enrollment

 

Last updated 3/22/2007 at Noon



On March 15, 30 Fallbrook Union Elementary School District teachers received warnings of reassignment or layoff. For counselor Dee Jarvis, who works four days a week at Fallbrook Street School and one day at La Paloma, the Reduction In Force (RIF) warnings are “business as usual.”

Jarvis has felt the unease of this notification for the past 11 years. It’s the way the district must do its job. Even though most of the RIF warnings will be rescinded by late May, each time it happens teachers and their families face a phase of uncertainty. Factors over which they have no control force administrators to take the action and it plays out in all California school districts.

In Fallbrook two factors impact the need for RIFs. One is the number of students in the district and the second is timing relating to the approval of the state budget.

For the last two or three years, Fallbrook schools have experienced a two- to three-percent decline in enrollment. This is perhaps a result of escalating housing prices which makes buying homes in Fallbrook difficult for young families, suggests Jim Whitlock, assistant superintendent of the district. Chet Gannett, his counterpart at Fallbrook Union High School, agrees. “There’s no scientific data to support this; it’s all speculative,” he says, but with fewer students to educate, staff layoffs are possible.

The second factor, and perhaps more perplexing, is not knowing how much money schools will have until late summer when the state budget is approved. Regardless of how administrators try to plan, on March 15, according to California Department of Education law, personnel who are guaranteed positions in the current school year but not necessarily the upcoming year must be notified that they may be reassigned or laid off. For counselors like Jarvis, assistant principals or lead teachers, this means they could be reassigned to a classroom for the upcoming school year. Jarvis says there’s no loss of pay, but knowing the job she loves is in jeopardy makes her uneasy.

“I’m a professional, and to receive a RIF every year makes me feel devalued.” Jarvis has a Masters in education and a PPS in counseling.

The procedure “does put everyone in upheaval; it’s the typical way Fallbrook does this,” says Patti Bailey, the California Teachers Association (CTA) representative for Fallbrook.

At the elementary school district, an average of 15 notices are sent out each year. But this March, it doubled. Should a layoff occur, the least senior teacher would be affected first, explains Whitlock.

“This is an annual action that occurs at this time of the year, because we don’t have enough assurance about the next year’s school budget,” Whitlock said.

Most of the district’s budget is influenced by the state’s budget. Even though they don’t have full knowledge of what the 2007-2008 revenue will be, if there is any doubt at all about being able to afford the positions next year, the incumbents for those positions must be notified, Whitlock says. Budget uncertainty used to be worse, says the CTA.

Proposition 98, which passed in 1988, took away the guessing game school administrators suffered through each year by setting a revenue base for schools. When it passed it became part of the state constitution, says Frank Caso, the CTA representative for San Diego County. In fact, when legislators surmised the proposition set a ceiling, the CTA sued and won, finding as a result Prop. 98 set “not a ceiling but a floor.”

While those notified wait, Jarvis says some teachers get their resumes updated, consider moving to a district that is growing, unlike Fallbrook where new home building is low, particularly for young families. Gannett mentions the KB development in Fallbrook as a usual “hallmark” of affordable new homes, but “They are in the $800,000 to $900,000 price range now,” he says.

Managing the personnel and budget for the district under these circumstance is frustrating, says Whitlock. “If the law was changed to say the employee was entitled to a notice within 30 days of the state adoption of its budget, it would make a lot more sense,” he says. “If that was the case these people would not be getting annual notices that are

frequently rescinded.” The CTA agrees.

As April and May pass, the district will have more clarity about next year’s budget and by late May many of the RIF warnings sent in March will be rescinded,

because by then the district has a better view of its new budget.

Budget deadlines notwithstanding, the specter of declining enrollment looms. The possibility that young families find it difficult financially to purchase a home in Fallbrook, even with prices softening, must be considered. According to Sandicor, San Diego County’s Multiple Listing Service, the median sales price for homes in Fallbrook has dipped to between $500,000 and $600,000 – reminiscent of home prices in 2004.

“There are few homes in inventory below that price range,” said Chris Hasvold, co-owner of Coldwell Banker Landmark Group. Hasvold predicts the current flat trend in pricing will continue through 2007 and into 2008. Even at a low of $500,000, will young families be able to afford living in Fallbrook? Hasvold suggests that the housing development planned for east of I-15 “will bring in a lot of kids” if the developer is able to build homes at a price their families can afford.

“They are surely needed for energetic community growth, but the county is making it difficult for homebuilders,” Hasvold said. “There are fees from $30,000 up to $50,000 that must be paid before ‘one stick’ can be built.”

In the meantime, Whitlock, Gannett and other school business administrators in districts that face declining enrollment and an uncertain budget make do, juggling the lives of their teachers and the wellbeing of their students as they struggle to make both ends of the frayed rope meet.

 

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