SL Coastal may need to cut 29 positions

A $6 million deficit could lead to the elimination of nearly 29 positions, including elementary school counselors, in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District.

The layoffs are the largest in magnitude considered by the school board in more than a decade. 

The district anticipates $72 million in revenue for the 2012-13 budget, but it will spend $80 million.

Administrators have identified $2 million in cuts that the school board will be asked to approve in March — leaving $6 million that must be slashed from the budget.

“The money has been taken by the state, and we are left with a huge hole in our budget that must be filled,” said Russell Miller, assistant superintendent of business and support services. “We can do it, but it won’t be easy, and it won’t be good for kids.” 

By law, school districts must send preliminary layoff notices to certificated employees — such as teachers, counselors and librarians — by March 15 for the 2013-14 school year. The school board last week reluctantly approved issuing pink slips, which could potentially impact 29 employees. Final pink slips will not be issued until May.

Employees receiving those notices include 10 elementary counselors equaling eight positions (some are part time), three middle and high school counselors, four librarians and a handful of instructional coaches, English-language-learner teachers and other supplemental teaching positions.

“Because 92 percent of our total revenue is paid out in salaries, the reductions will impact people and their jobs,” Miller said.

Not all the employees receiving layoff notices will lose their jobs as some people are expected to retire and others will find other positions within the district.

If all 29 of the positions were cut, the district would save $2 million.

At a recent board meeting, a few teachers implored the trustees not to take counselors from the elementary schools.

Sandy Potter, a sixth-grade teacher at Del Mar Elementary School in Morro Bay, said that having a counselor to help students with social issues allowed her to not lose teaching time.

The district has not yet come forward with a plan of how those students’ needs would be met if the elementary counselors are laid off, but said it is committed to finding a way to provide help for students who need it.

The existing proposal would keep counselors at middle and high schools, but increase the ratio to 480 students per counselor. Those counselors currently have 275 students.

Others pleaded with trustees to keep credentialed librarians and not move forward with a plan to replace them with library technicians.

“This is a great district because you have hired great staff,” said Vicki Carroll, librarian at San Luis Obispo High School.

San Luis Coastal is the last district in the county to employ credentialed librarians.

Classified employees such as custodians, secretaries and other office staff will not receive layoff notices until later this year.

Ryan Pinkerton, personnel director, said it was too soon to know how many of those employees would need to be laid off.

San Luis Coastal trustees cut more than $4.5 million from the budget in May — changing the way elementary music is taught, altering the way specialized instruction is given to English learners and trimming from special education. At the time, administrators cautioned that more cuts would be necessary.

The district has been using reserve funds to offset a structural deficit for the past three years.

Miller said the state has taken up to $4.5 million in funding from the district for the past three years with the expectation that money would be paid back.

However, a new funding model for schools approved by Gov. Jerry Brown this year made it clear that money was never coming back, Miller said.

“As a district, we chose not to make any cuts up to this time because we always thought it would be temporary and we could use our savings to not decimate our programs,” Miller said. “Now we understand there will be no payback and we will be forced to reduce some programs.”