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Western Placer - no layoffs

School district dodges bullet
By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
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There are no cutbacks or layoffs in the Western Placer Unified School District budget, which was unanimously passed by the Board of Trustees Monday night. “We’re fortunate,” said Board President Paul Carras. “We’ve not had to lay off anybody, and we’re not looking to lay off anybody.” According to Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Business Services Terri Ryland, the district is in a strong financial position. Ryland characterized the district’s situation as “positive.” There will be deficit spending to the tune of $417,000, but Ryland characterized that as “very good” when considering other school districts. The district’s ending fund balance – the amount of money left over – is estimated to be more than $14 million. The reason Western Placer is in a strong position when so many other school districts are forced to make tough decisions – including laying off teachers, cutting programs and dealing with budget gaps in the millions of dollars – is, according to Carras, because of the district’s successful claim for property-tax funding that had been misallocated from the state earlier this year, to the tune of more than $18 million. Those one-time funds have allowed for some growth in the district. A part-time library media teacher was added, a position that helps students be proficient in technology and research. That is to compensate for the full-time position the city of Lincoln eliminated in February. Also added to the budget is $258,000 for new teachers, which is enough to fund 3.7 full-time teaching positions. A school resource officer – a full-time police officer assigned to Lincoln and Phoenix high schools – was added to the budget by a unanimous decision of the board June 2. Also included in the 300-page, $50 million budget are additional office personnel and Kindergarten aides. Kindergarten aides have been asked for by Kindergarten teachers and the Western Placer Teachers Association since they were eliminated last year. Teachers asked for two hours per day for the aides, but the board compromised at one hour per day. “We’re happy to get the one hour, but we were hoping to get more,” said Regina Hinnenkamp, a Kindergarten teacher at Creekside Oaks Elementary School in a phone interview Friday. Hinnenkamp said she wanted the aides reinstated for the full two hours, since class sizes for Kindergarteners will likely be 28 students, and when faced with students for whom English is a second language, as well as the fact that many Kindergarteners need more specialized attention, the aides are a big help. “We do think it’s very important,” Hinnenkamp said. Despite the generally positive budget outlook in the district, only one thing is certain – it will change. “Obviously, this is based on a lot of moving pieces right now,” said Board Member Terry Gage. Gage was referring to the fact that districts across the state must plan their budgets without knowing how much money they will have – pending what happens at the state government level in Sacramento. “We just don’t know,” Ryland said. “We’re not done seeing the ugliness and its impact on education.” Board Member Paul Long put it more bluntly. “It’s going to get worse,” Long said. “We’ve got a big train wreck coming.” Despite the ominous economy and general consensus that the financial situation for school districts across the state will continue to worsen, Western Placer board members said the district is in a strong position and the one-time funds received earlier this year have been an integral part in keeping the district solvent. Brandon Darnell can be reached by e-mail at brandond@goldcountrymedia.com.