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FUESD board buckles down under budget shortfalls - Superintendent says cutting teachers "isn't the answer"

The Fallbrook Union Elementary School District’s (FUESD) governing board of trustees moved to adopt the initial proposals in their negotiations with the Fallbrook Elementary Teachers Association (FETA) for the 2010-2011 academic school year at their Feb. 16 board meeting.

According to FUESD superintendent Dr. Brian Jacobs, topics to be negotiated with the FETA include improving and relating the teacher evaluation process; insuring that the work hour and calendar provisions provide for ongoing professional development; and include time for collaboration, data analysis, and programmatic development, while maintaining a salary package the district can afford.

“By adopting these initial proposals, the governing board serves notice to the Association of its intent to modify and/or amend one or more provisions of the agreement,” said Jacobs.

According to the board agenda, FUESD will seek to negotiate provisions relating to hours of employment, the current schedule for “early-out Wednesdays,” and the number of days within the annual work year calendar for all bargaining unit members.

As the district and teachers association begins its first steps in the negotiation process, the state’s current education budget has significant shortfalls.

According to Jacobs, FUESD is facing a $3.2 to 3.6 million budget deficit for the 2010-2011 academic year and the district has already taken steps to make necessary adjustments easier.

“We have made reductions this year to soften the impact of the budget shortfalls,” said Jacobs. “For instance, I have assumed two jobs: the district superintendent and assistant superintendent of educational services. I would love to have an assistant superintendent, but I can’t simply ask [FETA] to give. It cannot be one-sided.”

Jacobs stated other personnel cuts have been made at the district level – a visual and performing arts coordinator, media services technician, and human resources position have been reduced from the budget.

“We have also increased class sizes from a 20 student to one teacher ratios to 22 student to one teacher,” said Jacobs. If necessary, Jacobs said classes in the district’s K-3 schools will be prepared to go from a 22 student to teacher ratio to a 24 or 26 student to teacher ratio.

“With these reductions, we hope to eliminate about $1.1 to 1.2 million of the shortfall,” said Jacobs. “This would allow for the effect to not hit us all at once.”

Jacobs stated the FUESD governing board has had “discussions about district reorganization,” and how reorganizing schools may be able to help with the financial burden in upcoming years.

Within the district, there are several schools that serve kindergarten to third grade students, and fourth to sixth grade students; with a few modifications, a reorganization of one of these schools could save the district from making cuts to staffing.

“If one of those campuses becomes a K-6 school, we may recover half-a-million dollars from the shortfall,” explained Jacobs. “This option would still allow the school to be educationally sound, and would help the district be more effective and efficient. However, when 85 percent of your budget is personnel, you are limited to the amount of reductions you can do without impacting people.”

Jacobs stated that as of Feb. 17, he did not believe that the district would be cutting any tenured or probationary teaching positions.

“This would be the first time we wouldn’t have to send out notices,” explained Jacobs. “Last year we handed out about 80 notices to teachers, and on an annual basis hand out about 18 to 20. We do have about 12 temporary teaching contracts that may be noticed by March 15 that their services will no longer be needed, but the teachers were informed the contracts were on a year-long basis.”

However, staffing reductions will have to be made throughout the district.

“We have several classified positions that are on a part time basis, and they will be impacted,” said Jacobs. “We need to have teachers, but you don’t necessarily need the safety monitor.”

Student enrollment also plays an important part in the reorganization of the district, said Jacobs.

“, we have not been hit as severely as the high school has. On Camp Pendleton, we have seen enrollment growth, while there has been a decline in town,” he elaborated. “We have about 85 less students in town, but there are new housing developments and military transfers that have impacted the base, so it’s a wash.”

The district is planning on implementing new strategies to attract parents of elementary students who may have left the district in favor of private schools or inter-district transfers.

“We are looking at different options, like a thematic, multi-language and age school site,” said Jacobs. “Even though we are in tough times, we are looking at our educational options.”

One element of providing better educational experiences for students includes an evaluation process that occurs every other year for teachers.

As part of the FETA and FUESD negotiation process this year, Jacobs said the district “will be exploring expanding the evaluation process.”

“We will discuss the potential of expanding this process so that our teachers who have shown outstanding qualities and teaching methods will have more options available to them,” he said.

Currently, the district has decided to continue to provide an 180-day school year for students and 183 work days for teaching staff, contrary to what other California school districts have begun to do.

“I know that some schools are planning to have 175-day years, but our plan is not to do that,” said Jacobs. “An effective factor that we use [when reviewing the district budget] is asking, ‘is this really helping the children?’”

Jacobs does not believe that cutting teachers is the answer.

“These educators are providing a wonderful service to our children,” he declared.

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