Hollister School District trustees voted March 3 to cut 33 staff positions as part of efforts to balance an estimated $6 million in budget shortfalls. The staff reductions will eliminate $3.3 million in expenses, while one-time relief of another $2.7 million in expenses is being made by shifting salaries from unrestricted resources to restricted resources.
The district board voted 4-1 to cut 15 classified positions, with trustee Elizabeth Martinez opposed; 4-1 to eliminate 15 certificated positions with trustee President Carla Torres-Deluna opposed, and 5-0 to eliminate three administrative positions.
“We don’t want to cut anybody; we have to,” Torres-Deluna said. “It is our responsibility to do this.”
Director of Human Resources Linda Villalon presented the list of positions:
- 7 Rigorous Independent Studies Education (RISE) teachers
- 5 physical education teachers
- 1 intervention teacher
- 1 school nurse
- 1 school psychologist
- 1 lead maintenance specialist
- 1 transport driver
- 1 lead custodian
- 1 translator
- 1 attendance liaison
- 6 custodians
- 4 technology support specialists
- 1 human resources analyst
- 2 assistant principals
Superintendent Erika Sanchez noted the use of vacant and expected-to-be vacant positions to make some layoffs possible. The RISE program is to be discontinued by the state after this fiscal year, so was considered a vacancy. The psychologist and maintenance specialist positions were vacant. Villalon noted the transport driver position was expected but not yet confirmed to be vacant soon.
Sanchez went through the history of budget problems in a short presentation before the board voted on the proposed cuts. She said her Dec. 14, 2021 report was specifically about the budget and fiscal solvency, followed by a Jan. 28 discussion of the layoff process for staff, then a budget analysis from Michael Bishop of Michael Bishop & Associates on Feb. 15. A vote by the board before March 15 was required to trigger the layoff process.
“The current budget cannot sustain the current staff,” Sanchez said. “Staff costs make up 93% of the Hollister School District’s budget.”
The voting to authorize layoffs were part of efforts to balance the district’s budget, which also include a requirement from the San Benito County Office of Education to submit a stabilization plan on or before March 15. Without those measures, the County Office of Education would take over budget oversight and district finances.
“The outcome of having someone else decide for this district what stays and what goes without any input from anyone is more dangerous than us taking control of this decision,” Martinez said. “I’m sorry that we’re here, I really am, because one of the biggest responsibilities for a board is being responsible for our budget.”
Trustee Lisa Marks estimated that in order to reach solvency the board would have to reduce staff’s share of the budget to 90% or less.
Several public speakers including teachers, parents and students said they opposed staff cuts. Several said cutting or adjusting the PE program would be detrimental to the students.
In response to public comments about the perceived elimination of the physical education program, Sanchez reiterated the program would not be eliminated.
“PE in itself is not going away, perhaps the format in which it is delivered could look different,” she said.
The district currently has 17 PE teachers, and with the cuts to that program, 12 PE teachers would remain, one of those being an adaptive PE, meant to help special education students with individualized education plans. Had the board chosen not to eliminate those PE teacher positions, Sanchez said the board would have to find $661,965 to cut somewhere else, most likely from personnel.
“Even if we were to not cut PE, it’s going to be somebody, five positions,” Torres-Deluna said.
Marks said though it was a difficult process, the board found a way to impact students as little as possible.
“Although I wish we weren’t doing this I feel we haven’t decimated any particular program that wasn’t already going to disappear like RISE,” Marks said.
Sanchez went over the staff categories and how their reductions stacked up. The 15 layoffs in both classified and certificated represented 4.7% of their total staff, Sanchez said, while the three administration layoffs meant an 8% reduction of their ranks.
Trustee Jan Grist reminded the public through a series of questions to Sanchez that there were no cuts to after school sports, art, music, instructional assistance for TK through second grade, or paraprofessionals for special education.
Another motion aimed at balancing the budget, to reserve the right to make employee compensation reductions in union negotiations, was discussed but trustees chose to wait for the district’s financial status following a full audit.
Sanchez said salary reductions did not have a timeline attached like the layoff notices, but would allow the district to have negotiation options should more deficits be discovered in the preparation of the second interim report or by the outside audit.
Sanchez said as the district moves toward confirming the final deficit amount, another unknown number looms over the district, that being average daily attendance, which she said had fallen to 63.4% in December and January, as compared to typical school years with 96% in the same period, a decline she attributed to the pandemic.
“ADA [Average Daily Attendance] triggers the revenue and the funding that the state allocates to the district on a daily basis,” Sanchez said.
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