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Auburn Union could face bankruptcy

Officials, teachers say unfortunately on money and not kids
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Bankruptcy, furlough days, and large class sizes could be the future of Auburn Union schools. Starting in 2010, Auburn Union teachers will likely get a five-day vacation they don’t really want. And for the next three years, officials said they are going to have to take even more drastic cuts to keep the school district from declaring bankruptcy. ‘Not about kids’ In a report recently presented at an November board meeting, Doug Crancer, assistant superintendent of business and facilities, predicted the district’s financial future and wrote that it didn’t look like it will meet its financial obligations two years from now. In fact, the district is facing the possibility of declaring bankruptcy, which means the state will then come in and take over operations, Schuetz said. In attempts to maintain the district’s finances, officials said they are looking at increasing class size, cutting music and physical education programs and eliminating staff. Recently, the Auburn Union Teachers Association’s offered to take 10 furlough days over the next two school years. The school board is expected to vote on the matter at its Dec. 9 meeting, according to Michele Schuetz, superintendent of Auburn Union schools. The furlough days will amount to a 2.7 percent cut to teacher salaries each year, according to Steve Schaffer, co-president of the association and E.V. Cain Middle School science teacher. “We’ll take five even though we’re not happy and haven’t had raises in a long time,” Schaffer said. Teacher John Garcia said morale is low among teachers as they face those cuts. Garcia, who teaches 36 fifth-grade students at Skyridge School, said losing programs such as physical education would leave no time for teachers to plan during the day in addition to denying students a chance to get some much needed activity. Garcia said he feels the cuts are “about dollars and not about kids.” Schuetz said she agrees. “Because of the crisis we’re experiencing with the budget we’ve had to actually eliminate things we know are good for kids and good for staff and promote student achievement,” Schuetz said. “The state has cut all the extra money that would provide for those programs and we have had to focus more on the budget in order to keep the district out of bankruptcy.” More cuts to come Schaffer said initially the school board asked the teachers to take a 12 percent cut. Teachers fought that and settled on the 2.7 percent decrease in pay over two years, which amounts to a total of 5.4 percent cut through 10 furlough days. Two of the furlough days will be in-service days for teachers. The remaining eight will be school days, which means students will have eight less days of class for the next two years. Schaffer said teachers felt the offer of five furlough days per year was fair because it was one of the state’s suggestions as to how to remedy the loss of funding. However, he said teachers and union reps are bracing themselves for an upcoming meeting with the district’s negotiations counsel in January to start mulling over the next contract deal and what cuts might be forthcoming. “We’re maxed out,” Schaffer said. “I’m positive we’re not going to be able to take any more hits next year.” District officials agree. Schuetz said the district cut $1.5 million last February, made additional cuts in June and had its general-purpose fund lose 20 percent in state funding. Add in that fact that Auburn Union is a declining-enrollment district and Schuetz and Crancer said it’s all too possible that the district could declare bankruptcy in three years. “We need about $900,000 ongoing over the next two years to keep out of bankruptcy,” Schuetz said. Schuetz said all extra programs have been cut and now it’s down to positions and people. Confidential staff and administration have agreed to take five furlough days for 2009-10 and five furlough days in 2010-2011. Crancer estimated that administrators would take between $4,000 and $6,000 less a year home out of their gross salary, which is pay before taxes and retirement contributions are taken out. Teachers taking 10 furlough days over the next two years will save the district about $390,000, Crancer said. Additional cuts will have to be made, Schuetz said. Trying to focus on the future As the district faces a $1.3 million deficit three years from now and the possibility of declaring bankruptcy, Schuetz said there are some positive things to focus on. She said the district is starting its own home-school and pre-kindergarten programs as a way to bring students into the district. Crancer added that the district is now able to sell an eight-acre $450,000 parcel of land that previous laws prevented it from selling. Ultimately, Schuetz said in these difficult times when morale is low, the district can only encourage staff as best as it can. “We have many staff who are also experiencing personal financial challenges because of this climate,” Schuetz said. “One thing we always want to remember is we have wonderful, wonderful employees here trying to the best for students.” Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com.