Michelle Rindels
Staff Writer

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February 11, 2010
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Layoffs likely to hit high school

Pink slips will have no Valentine's Day romance come next week:

On Tuesday, high school officials meet with labor leaders to continue discussions of how many school employees could get laid off, or whether furlough days would be used to spread the sacrifice.

While employee furloughs have increasingly been used at the state level and in nearby school districts to slash costs during the economic downturn, employees at the Nevada Joint Union High School District have staved them off so far.

Whether as many as five furlough days end up on the calendar next school year depends on the outcome of talks between administrators and union leaders.

The teachers' union is preparing a statement about the situation, but would not discuss any proposals while negotiations are in progress, union president Jim Drew said this week.

Barring a breakthrough in negotiations, the district will send out layoff notices to employees by March 15; the equivalent of 22 full-time positions is on the chopping block. Positions that could be targeted include teachers, counselors, librarians and other certificated staff.

It's a slight improvement over last year's carnage, when the equivalent of 26.6 full-time positions was eliminated.

Who gets booted is a complex question determined by which departments are reduced, the individual's credentials and seniority. The layoff notices are a preliminary step and can be rescinded if other cuts are made in coming weeks.

District officials are recommending five furlough days for all employees including administrators, a measure that would save $500,000 and reduce layoffs - but not eliminate them.

Payroll accounts for 80 percent of expenses at the 3,741-student district, which is heavy on experienced teachers - 40 percent are at the top of the pay scale.

While the median salary for district teachers is $72,167 plus benefits, five teachers with additional longevity and advanced-degree bonuses make $81,167. The figure does not include bonuses teachers earn for being department heads or leading extracurricular programs, which can add on additional thousands.

Furloughs alone will not accomplish the district's goal of cutting $2.1 million from the

fiscal year 2010-11 budget, now at $31 million.

But since they first appeared for state employees in February 2009, they've become a fixture in the recession workplace, perceived as a gentler alternative to layoffs.

At Placer Union High School District, teachers and classified staff are taking two furlough days this school year, while administrators and managers took three furlough days. The district, which is slightly larger than NJUHSD, has not budgeted those furlough days to continue for 2010-11.

But they're not ruling out the possibility, said Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Doug Marquand.

Most of California's civil service payroll - about 200,000 out of 235,000 employees - started with two furlough days per month, an officials said. In July, they added a third furlough day each month. That's the equivalent of a 14 percent pay cut.

While easier to negotiate than layoffs, furloughs are raising ire in court.

The state already has faced lawsuits by most of the 12 state employees' unions, but so far, no court has ruled against the governor's authority to furlough employees, according to California Department of Personnel Administration spokeswoman Lynelle Jolley.

Although there aren't statistics on how many private-sector businesses are using furloughs and pay cuts to survive the recession, Nevada County Economic Resource Council President Gil Mathew said he's seeing a trend favoring furloughs over layoffs.

"There's much more social consciousness to it," he said - the idea that in a down economy, "everybody suffers."

Other factors are at play. Mathew said employees tend to see furloughs as "definable" and limited to a period of time. A pay cut is perceived "as a never-ending problem."

What's more, even jobs that used to require virtually no technical skills - waitressing, for example - now require technical skills such as operating a cash register.

Employers are less inclined to lay off employees if they think they will have to train new hires when business picks up.

"Every company has a culture, and it takes years for that to get ingrained," Mathew said. "Companies are much more apt to retain the employee base that has that culture."

In a letter to The Union, district Superintendent Ralf Swenson urged cooperation between labor and management to close the district's deficit.

Even with five days of employee furloughs and the most optimistic projections about state funding for schools, many other cuts will have to be made.

Those including reductions to athletics, closing a pool, colder classrooms in winter and warmer rooms in fall and spring, less money for instructional resources, postponed replacement of computers, and fewer services for students in adult education programs.

"It is my hope that our teachers and classified staff will continue to work with me towards a negotiated solution to our current crisis," he said. "None of us created this problem, but all of us together can contribute to a resolution."

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail mrindels@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4247.

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The Union Updated Feb 12, 2010 12:48AM Published Feb 11, 2010 11:24PM Copyright 2010 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.