Atascadero Unified may cut 27 jobs

Twenty-seven jobs in the Atascadero Unified School District could be eliminated in coming weeks, the school board decided Tuesday night.

Positions on the chopping block include a principal, seven elementary school teachers, two high school counselors and as many as six special education teachers.

The proposed cuts come roughly a year after Atascadero Unified issued 54 pink slips to its teaching staff. The district hired back 18 teachers using part of $1.8 million in federal stimulus money.

Now Atascadero Unified faces $3.7 million in potential cuts from next year’s estimated budget of $33 million, due to declining state revenue, dropping enrollment and other factors.

“What we have to look at is the total revenue versus the total expense,” district Superintendent John Rogers said. “It’s going to be a difficult year for us, no question about it.”

The district’s decision comes in the wake of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal for the 2010-11 fiscal year. Rogers said Atascadero Unified School District stands to lose $1.2 million in state revenue — about $248 per student.

In addition, the district must account for the loss of $1.8 million in expiring federal stimulus funding, $450,000 in higher payroll costs and $300,000 due to declining enrollment.

This school year, Atascadero Unified lost another 60 students, Rogers said, bringing enrollment to a total of 4,500 students, down from 5,040 in 2006.

The district is looking to eliminate the equivalent of 20.46 full-time positions — jobs now held by 27 people — to reduce costs, said Kimberly Spinks, the district’s director of human resources.

The cuts could affect employees at elementary schools, Atascadero Junior High School and Atascadero High School, including those involved in the Learning Center and AVID programs. AVID provides additional support for students pursuing careers and higher education.

The district is also planning to eliminate full- and part-time positions in music education, art, drama and Spanish.

“It’s that old adage of five steps forward, three steps back,” Spinks said. “We’re at a point in our district where some of the programs we have offered are above and beyond the core curriculum. We’re having to tailor down to the core curriculum.”

He said the positions to be eliminated include four retiring employees. English teacher Anthony Merrill, counselor Deborah Rodgers and elementary school teachers Lynne Kisaka and Barbara Waheed are set to retire in June.

Under state law, the district must notify affected employees between now and March 15. It’s uncertain at this point whether any will return.

“A lot of issues that will affect schools are still being discussed in committees in Sacramento,” said Rogers, adding that the school district will present its final recommendation prior to June 30.