County schools hand out layoff notices

About 185 teachers, counselors, and other credentialed employees at school districts throughout San Luis Obispo County have received notice that they may be laid off at the end of this academic year.

Statewide, 21,905 teachers and other staff received layoff notices by March 15, the annual legal deadline for school districts to send the notices.

The cuts don’t only affect teachers — two longtime counselors at Paso Robles High School received a layoff notice, shocking the school population and leaving only two counselors for 2,000 students.

School districts countywide face budget cuts, from a $9 million shortfall in the San Luis Coastal Unified district’s $74 million budget to at least $50,000 in the Pleasant Valley Joint Union School District’s 2010-11 $867,000 budget.

“Every year is a challenge,” Pleasant Valley Superintendent Tom Apkarian said. “We’re bare bones right now.”

Cuts may lead to larger classes — meaning less individualized attention to students — more combination classes at some districts, fewer electives and fewer opportunities for staff development and training.

“So what you have at the end of the day is probably a very vanilla program with basically classroom teachers and a large class, unfortunately,” said Julian Crocker, county superintendent of schools.

There is also the “personal impact,” Crocker said. Mass layoff notifications are discouraging to teaching staff and also may discourage those considering careers in education.

However, the number of layoff notices issued by a majority of districts this year is less than the number handed out last year, when more than 350 teachers and other staff received notice. Of those, 229 were handed out in the Lucia Mar district in the South County.

Public education in California has been cut by $18 billion during the last two budget cycles, and the governor has proposed an additional $2.4 billion in cuts for this current fiscal year, which ends June 30, according to the state Department of Education.

School districts in San Luis Obispo County face an estimated $8.6 million cut, or $6,250 per classroom, Crocker said.

“I think this year is more difficult because we’re building on last year,” he said.

Lucia Mar cutsOnce again, district officials at Lucia Mar have distributed the most — 83 notices to cover cuts to 71.9 teaching and other positions. With more than 10,700 students, Lucia Mar is the largest district in the county, and faces a $5 million cut from its $52 million budget next year.

Michelle Ellis, assistant superintendent of human resources at Lucia Mar, said 19 of those employees are assured another position with the district because they will be able to bump someone less senior in the district.

The Paso Robles district has given layoff notices to 55 teachers. An additional 15 temporary teachers have also received pink slips.

Jillian Johnson, one of the 55, said she wasn’t surprised to receive the pink slip, especially since she barely avoided getting a notice last year, when 52 notices were mailed off. This year, she knew, it was going to be even worse, given budget predictions.

“The hardest thing is to have everybody around you patting you on the back, reminding you how well you’ve done,” said Johnson, a fifth-grade teacher who has taught for six years and who acquired a $25,000 PG&E grant for her school. “It’s like, ‘Wow — I couldn’t work any harder.’”

The Atascadero district, which faces a $3.7 million cut to next year’s $33 million budget, plans to eliminate 27 jobs, the equivalent of 20.46 full-time positions. Those positions include a principal, seven elementary school teachers, two high school counselors and as many as six special education teachers.

Kimberly Spinks, director of human resources, said the district has passed out 23 potential layoff notices and four reassignment notices. In addition, six district employees are retiring.

“The more retirements we get, the fewer (people) we have to lay off,” Spinks said.

In Templeton, 18 teachers may lose their jobs as the district deals with an anticipated $1 million shortfall.

To date, 14 teaching positions have been eliminated from that district’s $17 million budget in the current budget. Additional cuts to non-teaching staff are also expected, Superintendent Deborah Bowers said.

The budget shortfall will also mean larger class sizes and fewer math and English intervention programs and elective choices, she said.

Superintendents of a few districts, including San Luis Coastal Unified and Shandon Joint Unified, said they will wait to buy new textbooks.

Shandon Superintendent Rodney Wallace said the district faces a 10 percent cut to its $3.5 million budget, and plans to cut one teaching position.

Additional cuts may hurt core programs, such as science, and increase the number of combination classes at its schools.

The San Luis Coastal district faces a $9 million shortfall to its $74 million budget.

Superintendent Ed Valentine said 70 temporary contracts — most held by teachers — will not be renewed. The district won’t replace up to 20 teaching positions vacated by retirees until a clear picture of the budget arrives later this year.

He said the district would not eliminate all 70 positions at once.

The San Miguel district issued four layoff notices. The board also recently voted to close its Community Day School, a program for kindergarten through eighth-grade students who have been expelled from the San Miguel, Templeton, and Paso Robles districts.

The school, which costs the district about $82,000 a year, has five students, said San Miguel district Business Manager Sherrie Castellanos.

“You get to see huge improvements in a short period of time,” Community Day School teacher Aleea Brooks said. “There’s a lot of one-on-one help to get them caught up quickly. Some of them have straight A’s and B’s now, which they never had.”

The Cayucos Elementary School District was able to avoid layoffs.

Superintendent George Erdelyi said the district will reach into its reserve funds to avoid issuing layoff notices.

The district anticipates a budget shortfall of about $80,000 to its approximately $2 million budget, which will be addressed by cutting expenses on consumable items such as delaying the adoption cycle for new text books, he said.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Staff writers AnnMarie Cornejo, Sarah Linn, Patrick S. Pemberton and Kathe Tanner contributed to this report. Stay updated on Twitter @SouthCountyBeat.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune