Templeton School District cuts to help fill nearly $1 million deficit

Templeton students may feel fewer budget cuts this fall compared to previous years after the school district’s leaders hashed out ways to buffer state shortfalls.

Meanwhile, new student programs may also be on the horizon.

The Templeton Unified School District board of trustees approved various cuts and changes Thursday to help fill the district’s nearly $1 million deficit from the state for the 2013-14 school year.

Thursday’s cuts saved an additional $350,000, plus an added $60,000 if other funding sources, such as community groups, can pay for programs such as some sports and intervention programs for reading and math.

The board’s budget reductions were the culmination of a month-long process where budget cut ideas were ranked and discussed in employee meetings and community forums.

“What we strived to achieve was to stay as far away from the classroom as we could,” school board president Phil Keohen said.

Using that mindset, the list eventually shrunk back from severe options like eliminating freshman sports to a more strategical approach that focused on reducing programs with declining enrollment – such as the independent study program. It was also about looking at ways to restructure services that could be covered in other ways, such as nixing a $20,000 reading consultant because an existing elementary school teacher involved in reading intervention could take over what the consultant started.

“The kids are not even going to see the effect of some of this stuff because it’s just the way things are moved about in the system,” Keohen said.

But some of it will be felt by others; such as upcoming staff pink slips to four teachers and three classified employees.

Of them, one teacher and all three classified employees – a job description that typically covers clerks, custodians and office staff – would continue to work with the district on reduced hours.

Some already-vacant positions will also be cut.

Staff also contributed to previous savings of $250,000 in November when district employees agreed to take four furlough days in the 2013-14 school year.

Templeton, a small North County school district with roughly 2,500 students, has struggled to balance keeping the vibrant school programs its popular for while battling deficit spending from state takeaways.

Over the last five years, the district has pared back by leaving vacant positions unfilled, issuing layoffs, doing early retirement incentives and its much-debated decision to stop home-to-school busing.

Last year, the school board approved filling the district's deficit with $1 million in reserves, starting the current school year off with $2.7 million in savings.

On Thursday, school board members also opted to pad deficit spending with about $300,000 of reserves in the fall in order to keep the cuts low.

Eventually, all five board members also agreed to skip further reductions to transportation, digging into the district’s autism services program and reorganizing alternative education.

“We’d had some incredibly tough decisions to tackle and (school) board members wrestled with it; they pushed back on me, pushed back on each other,” Superintendent Joe Koski said. “When it was all said and done, their decision was outstanding.”

Koski, meanwhile, is looking for ways to boost enrollment at its independent study and home school programs to bring some services back to students.

“We fully intend to rehire staff if we could boost enrollment,” he said.

The school district also continues to seek help from fundraising.

Community groups have helped pad the district’s budget in the past but this time, it would direct the funds to specific programs, like middle school sports.

If the community groups don’t step in, the programs will likely live on but be funded through reserves, Koski said.

School leaders say its diverse array of student programs is what makes Templeton a popular district and they have worked to shield students from detrimental cutbacks.

Officials are also gearing up to present two new programs for the fall: expanding its ROP career-training program to include culinary arts, teaching careers – and, if funding and staff interest allows – business studies.

Staff is also working to bring a new STEM Academy – focusing on science, technology, engineering and math – to Templeton High School.

Adding programs was made possible by using existing resources and teachers to restructure the programs, Koski said.

Reach Tonya Strickland at 781-7858. Stay updated by following @tstrickland on Twitter and checking out