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‘I can’t see the bottom now’: Administrators consider where and whether to make layoffs amid revenue shortage

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

Nevada Joint Union High School District

2019-20 Second Interim Budget

Total revenue: $36,463,492

Total expenditures: $38,795,408

Reserve for economic uncertainty: $1,172,735

Penn Valley Union Elementary School District

2019-20 Second Interim Budget

Total revenue: $6,647,959

Total expenditures: $6,766,064

Reserve for economic uncertainty: $270,643

Grass Valley School District

2019-20 First Interim Budget

Total revenue: $16,611,443

Total expenditures: $16,615,177

Reserve for economic uncertainty: $486,313

Nevada City School District

2019-20 First Interim Budget

Total revenue: $9,606,399

Total expenditures: $9,262,012

Reserve for economic uncertainty: $370,481

Pleasant Ridge School District

2019-20 Second Interim Budget

Total revenue: $14,301,500.60

Total expenditures: $14,121,343.51

Reserve for economic uncertainty: $2,180,793

As the end of the school year draws to a close, administrators haven’t had much time to celebrate graduations, or any sort of summer break ahead, before turning to matters of next school year.

That’s where school district boards and administrators will need to determine how best to proceed during the following year — with distance learning, staggered scheduling or both — and how to make that operational with tighter budgets. These challenges still pose many questions, as after Gov. Gavin Newsom released his recently proposed budget, the state Legislature pushed back, insisting deep cuts are made only if federal assistance isn’t provided by Sept. 1.

As such, Darlene Waddle. chief business official for the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Office, said her previous words of caution to local budget overseers were proving true.

“We can’t react to information that is so unknown at this time,” she said, adding that actions from the U.S. Senate, governor and state Legislature all matter. Whatever decisions they make, Waddle said that school districts must submit their budgets to the county office by mid-June and should prepare for a zero-growth model.

Many administrators preparing the first interim of their 2020-21 budgets are taking Waddle’s prior advice: if need be, make cuts as far away from the classroom as possible, don’t fill empty positions and cut hours before making full-blown layoffs.

While many schools have yet to pull the trigger on layoffs, superintendents and board members are anticipating having to make significant cuts both this year as well as in future years.

If Newsom’s budget does pass, Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden said it will amount to budget reductions of around $3.2 million to $3.4 million, and result in possible layoffs almost everywhere in the district. Even if a federal stimulus package passes, McFadden said the district estimates that would only cover $500,000 of its total losses.

McFadden said during economic downturns, when cuts need to be made, the key thing as an administrator is to maintain core instruction and student services as much as possible and always ask — as much as a scientist as an artist — “is this part of the core?” In general, the superintendent is trying to avoid layoffs, as they have negative ripples throughout the community, straining the local economy by either driving people away or causing them to spend less. The future, he said, does not look optimistic.

“We have a long ways to go before we’re out of the woods,” he said. “During the recession I could see where the bottom was, I can’t see the bottom now.”

But some districts are having to move faster, like the Penn Valley Union Elementary School District, which has had to recommend that 33 positions are cut. Grass Valley School District Superintendent Eric Fredrickson said that he, too, will be proposing to his board that primarily classified employees be laid off and that some positional vacancies not be filled. He estimated losses amounting to about $913,000 for the district, excluding food service costs.


Nevada City School District Superintendent Monica Daugherty agreed with Waddle’s assessment that when cuts are made, one should strike as far from the classroom as possible.

Daugherty said she and her district are lucky not to have to make any layoffs yet, but that it may have to leave open positions vacant. The district’s financing is different than many others, she said, as it receives most of its funding based on local property taxes.

Pleasant Ridge and Chicago Park school districts are also yet to issue layoffs. But because the economy has taken a turn for the worse, both school districts are planning frugal spending.

“We are predicated on what the economy is in the state of California,” said Pleasant Ridge Union School District Superintendent Rusty Clark. “It’s one that we don’t know how bad it will be.”

Chicago Park School District Superintendent and Principal Katie Kohler said the district plans to cut things like professional development outings and conferences for superintendents. It already plans not to fill three open aid positions.

“We’re trying to be cautious on any spending,” she said.

Nevada Joint Union High School District Board President Jamie Reeves said she hopes people take greater stock in education during this time, recognizing its relevance to the socialization, development and professional growth of students.

While acknowledging it will be difficult, she said she hopes people invest locally and statewide in education.

“In my core I believe education is the only thing that can progress society forward,” she said. “If we don’t have that, everything else falls. It’s foundational; it’s a pillar.”

While Waddle doesn’t know how schools will continue in the future — likely with some combination of distance learning and staggered scheduling — she said schools will find a way to persist, just as they did during the Great Recession.

“I do know that schools will continue,” she said. “I do know that public education will survive.”


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Coronavirus Guidance for Businesses/Employers

Nevada County Relief Fund for Covid-19

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.

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