Jennifer Terman

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April 4, 2013
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Layoffs a sign of the enrollment situation in Nevada County schools

Following preliminary notice of layoffs made by the March 15 deadline, traditional public schools in Nevada County grapple with declining enrollment, while the number of charter-school students continues to rise.

Chicago Park, which began offering a charter program two years ago, experienced no layoffs for the first time in several years, said Dan Zeisler, superintendent of Chicago Park.

“If we did not have our charter, we would definitely continue to experience declining or stagnant enrollment,” Zeisler said, adding that the number of students enrolled went from 141 last year to 145 this year after a downward trend in previous years.

Part of the reason, Zeisler said, is that parents were no longer bound by the interdistrict transfer restrictions by Grass Valley School District if they elected to put their child in a charter school, which some Chicago Park parents elected to do.

“Another thing to be aware of is that we’re really similar to Clear Creek in our size and program, and they have been growing in the last several years, and they are not charter,” Zeisler said. “It’s just a different program that is a great fit.”

Scott Lay, superintendent at Clear Creek, said the enrollment in his district, which went from 105 students in 2005-06 to 166 this year, was due to a stable budget situation.

“We had increasing enrollment the last five years, so we were able to avoid any layoffs next year,” Lay said. “It’s only been on the years when the state budget was forever late, but we’ve had another follow through in the last several years, so we’re going to stay status quo.”

None of the charter schools in Nevada County had to notify teachers or staff of potential layoffs, likely an effect of increased enrollment in charter schools across the board, said Bruce Herring, principal of Bitney College Prep.

“What is going on locally is that all the charter schools are growing,” Herring said. “We have experienced double-digit growth for four years in a row and anticipate that to continue, and traditional public schools continue to have declining enrollment.”

Because of the increase in enrollment, county charter schools also have seen increased funding as well. The funding model for charter schools is different from traditional schools, as charter schools are not provided funding for specific programs and instead are given a basic amount of funding per student, based on average daily attendance. Charter schools are also largely without teacher unions, which means teachers work under different types of contracts and, in some cases, are only given a yearly contract.

“Every teacher is on a one-year contract, and I don’t remember us ever having layoffs,” said Caleb Buckley, director of Yuba River Charter. “The funding model from the state is a block grant, so they just give you a certain amount of money for every student; so we don’t have the small little categorical programs. It all comes in one block grant, so they just give us a little over $5,000 per ADA.”

Some districts faced with declining enrollment had to notify teachers, including Nevada Joint Union High School District, which released nine layoff notices, and Pleasant Ridge School District, which distributed eight.

The enrollment number for Union Hill School went from 697 students in the 2011-12 school year to 662 students this year.

“You can only lay off for certain purposes, and declining enrollment is one of those causes,” said Susan Barry, superintendent of Union Hill.

Nevada City School District, where declining enrollment has led to the closure of both Nevada City and Gold Run elementary schools in recent years, notified one part-time employee of a potential layoff. That’s a drastic drop from the notification of potential layoffs of 20-30 full-time equivalent positions last year.

“Last year in order to move out of a negative, a lot of things had to change,” said Annette McTighe, administrative assistant to superintendent Roxanne Gilpatric. “The big difference is that for multiple years now, we’ve been closing schools and doing deep cuts, so hopefully we’re at a place where we can just maintain and not lay off as many people.”

Pleasant Valley School District issued two layoff notices, and Ready Springs issued notification for the equivalent of a 0.75 full-time position, the average for the past few years, said Stephanie Ellis, assistant to Debra Sandoval, superintendent of both the Pleasant Valley and Ready Springs districts.

“We haven’t had a great number of layoffs,” Ellis said. “We’re pretty bare bones right now.”

One of the factors as to whether or not a school will distribute layoffs is the number of staff members who choose to retire, and incentives provide a way to ease the process when cost-effective, officials said.

“We ended up with five retirees, and with that many, we did not need to do any layoffs,” said Eric Fredrickson, superintendent of Grass Valley School District. “If we determine there’s a cost savings, we offer an extended one-time retirement incentive.”

The amount of the incentive is determined by the number of staff members who choose to retire, Fredrickson said. “If we had three committed retirees, they would get a $30,000 incentive paid over four years, if five at $35,000 incentive, with seven $40,000, with nine $50,000.”

The incentive has a years-of-service requirement, and teachers over the age of 60 are offered a small incentive, Fredrickson said.

“When they hit 60, you know they are going to retire in a year or two, so you don’t offer something ongoing like that,” he said. “Last year we had close to five or six retire so no layoffs last year, either. So that’s been really beneficial because our enrollment is down about 60 kids — that would have been about three positions.”

As traditional schools face declining enrollment, school administrators look to see what the final result of the budget situation will look like and hope for a positive outcome.

“Two or three years ago, the budget was so bad that people were laying off just for safety, just to make sure you’re being conservative with your budget,” Fredrickson said. “For next year, they are projecting an improved budget again.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

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The Union Updated Apr 4, 2013 02:30AM Published Apr 4, 2013 04:05PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.