Education

School layoffs planned more than 40 California school districts

El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016.
El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016.
Kyle Stokes/KPCC

More than 40 school districts took steps to prepare for staff layoffs because of expected budget deficits, according to California's largest teachers union.

The school districts with the largest number of "Reduction in Force" notices mailed to staff included the districts in San Diego, Santa Ana, and Montebello.

“We’re on the verge of insolvency,” said Montebello Unified spokesman Robert Alaniz.

That school district’s student enrollment has dropped 20 percent in the last decade, a rate twice as high as that for L.A. County schools as a whole.

To replace the lost funding that disappeared with those students, Alaniz said, Montebello administrators dipped into their reserve funds. Those reserves are now so low that the school district will need to cut $50 million from its budget for next year.

Staff salaries make up the bulk of the budget, so the school district sent out preliminary layoff notices to 333 employees, mostly teachers.

“We’re going to do everything to make sure we maintain our programs and maintain our consistency," Alaniz said. "After all of this, we are about educating our students.” 

Santa Ana Unified also sent preliminary layoff notices to 287 teachers to help it close an expected budget deficit. Enrollment there has dropped but not as drastically as Montebello; Santa Ana schools lost 1,000 students last year.

“We already know, based on what we lost this year, that that translates into about $9.5 million less in funding,” said spokeswoman Deidra Powell.

She said the district’s projected deficit next fiscal year is $25 million. Some of that is based on expected funding cuts to California’s Local Control Funding Formula, along with expected cuts to federal education funding.

There are lots of other factors tugging at school districts, including automatic teacher raises and pension costs.

“Districts will have some tough choices,” said Orange County Department of Education Chief Financial Officer Dean West.

His office is telling school districts to expect a 12-22 percent cut in federal funding because enrollment drops for the last Census will now be lined up with federal funding amounts.

“Everything related to census data that may negatively impact Orange County districts is now going to hit in the ’17-‘18 year,” he said.

His agency holds school districts accountable for submitting balanced budgets for two years out beyond the coming fiscal year. He said he expects all 27 Orange County school districts to submit balanced budgets.

The preliminary layoff notices won’t be final until May. That’s when California officials revise their budget projections based on state income tax revenues.