Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that three of the new trustees received thousands of dollars of support from local unions.
A once dicey financial situation for Capistrano Unified was made more stable Monday night when the school's district board of trustees moved to tighten its budget with cuts that one union president called an "attack" on employees.
The board voted 4-2 to consolidate three preschool managers’ responsibilities into two positions and to reduce hours for speech language pathologist assistants and food service employees, with Trustees Ellen Addonizio and Lynn Hatton voting against and Trustee Anna Bryson absent to attend the Orange County Republican Party’s Flag Day dinner.
After Bryson arrived at the meeting at 10:05 p.m., the board was able to break a tie in a vote to allow the district to reserve the right to make further cuts to employee salaries. That resolution passed, with Addonizio, President Jack Brick and Vice President Gary Pritchard voting no.
Ronda Walen, president of the California School Employees Association’s local chapter 224, had sharp words for the board.
“I’m very surprised and disappointed to see this on the agenda again this year,” Walen said, referring to the resolution that would give the district the option of cutting employee pay. “The tone of this resolution is oppositional … and it does everything to erode trust.”
Walen said she expected the “attack on employees” to end after a new board was seated following the Nov. 4 elections. Two of the three new trustees received thousands of dollars of support from school district unions.
Walen called the resolution “meaningless,” “mean-spirited” and “so disrespectful to employees of CUSD.”
Trustee John Alpay said the resolution does not guarantee layoffs or pay cuts. “This just gives us flexibility vis-a-vis the budget.”
Jodee Brentlinger, assistant superintendent of personnel services, said the resolution the board approved was the same wording the district has used for the previous three years. “There’s no intent on the part of the district to be disrespectful to our employees.”
Several non-teaching employees affected by the reduction in hours, pleaded with the board not to make the move. In March, the district .
Sara Gonzalez, a speech language pathologist assistant, said reducing her and other assistants’ day from eight to seven hours represents a $678 monthly cut.
“I have yet to be observed by anyone at the district,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t understand how they can make judgments [about] efficiencies.
Speech language pathologist assistant Melissa Reader said that by shortening her day, “this will directly impact the services we deliver.” Many times, therapy is tailored to the individual needs of the students.
According to the staff report, by reducing the assistants’ hours, the district will save $85,500. Eliminating the one preschool manager will save $71,000. By reducing the food workers' hours, the district will save another $75,000. Brentlinger said that rather than cutting existing food employee hours, the district will transition the lighter load with new employees through attrition.
Food services employee Terri Hause told the board that eliminating hours for her division means no breakfast for students at schools where few free meals are served. For example, by hiring a new employee at in Rancho Santa Margarita, breakfast before school is no longer an option.
Dawn Davey, director of food and nutrition for the district, said breakfast-type foods are available for students at first recess.
School districts across the state must approve their next budgets by June 30 whether the state has passed its own budget or not. Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget allots schools the same money for schools as it did last year. As long as that holds true, and by dipping into funds that were supposed to go for deferred maintenance projects, Capo Unified will be able to balance a budget with just $130,000 in wiggle room—a figure Deputy Superintendent Ron Lebs called within a rounding error.
“This is the first year since 2007-08 that we’re not looking at a cut” from Sacramento, said Lebs, the district’s deputy superintendent for business and support services.
Besides using the deferred maintenance money, the district was helped out by a $4.37-million reduction in , Lebs said. Initially, district officials had expected these services to total of $5.6 million, but they are now budgeted at $1.3 million.
In addition, a new charter school, Oxford Preparatory Academy, has agreed to enroll fewer students, which saves the district another $360,000, Lebs said.
For the first time, state legislators will have their pay docked if they don’t submit a budget by June 15. Legislators didn’t approve last year’s budget—which state law has always required passage by June 30—until Oct. 8. California’s voters tied the budget to legislators’ personal paychecks last year.
“I think that it will be a little bit of an incentive to adopt the budget on time,” Lebs told the board.