Layoffs sweep custodians

Now that the Chico Unified School District has slashed the budget and laid off teachers, it’s time for the classified employees to feel the pain.

The CUSD Board of Trustees unanimously voted May 21 to send notices of the intent to lay off members of the classified staff, a unionized employee group that includes clerical workers, bus drivers, maintenance specialists and others. All told, the equivalent of 12.75 full-time positions will go, including 7.75 custodial jobs. Also getting notice are: a grounds worker, a computer operator, an office manager, a maintenance and operations supervisor and an office assistant.

Dee Gudmundson, chapter president of the California School Employees Association that represents classified workers, took particular issue with the cuts to custodial staff. “Our students and staff deserve clean, healthy learning and working environments,” she said, and cleaning classrooms only every other day won’t provide that.

Also, teachers and others who work with the alternative Oakdale School said it would be a mistake to cut its office manager, since the high turnover of students there generates a large amount of paperwork. “How can you have a school with no clerical support?” asked Pat Haskell, a registrar. “Who will do all the work?”

Superintendent Scott Brown responded that alternative education already has a better ratio of clerical workers than other schools, and it’s time for other areas to see the clerical cuts that hit junior highs a couple of years ago.

Trustee Anthony Watts asked if it would be possible to have volunteers clean the schools, or, “Would we end up in some kind of contract dispute?” The answer was the latter, since volunteers can’t displace contract workers.

At the same meeting, Assistant Superintendent Randy Meeker, who manages the budget, reported on Gov. Gray Davis’ “May revise.” While there are “dramatic changes” in that document, including adding taxes and borrowing $10.8 billion, Meeker says the CUSD should stick to its January figures. That’s so if legislators don’t agree and new taxes don’t come to pass, the CUSD won’t end up in cut mode again. Last year, the state budget wasn’t adopted until September—well into the fiscal year.

Brown said part of the reason the budget looks a little better for schools is because of lobbying by the California Teachers Association and the classified employees’ union. “The governor is beholden to them,” he said.

Even so, Brown said, there’s no telling if the governor could again play the nasty game of mid-year takebacks. “What they’ve trained us to do is be skeptical,” Brown said.

The district already had to cut back $3.5 million in its 2002-03 budget. Teaching, administrative and counseling positions were eliminated, and in the process the CUSD lost $382,000 in state funding for now-absent ninth-grade class-size reduction in Math and English.

On the plus side, the average daily attendance (ADA) by which the state sends along local funding saw 43 students more than expected at 12,839.

But the cutting will likely begin anew with the 2004-05 budget, when cost increases are expected but no cost-of-living-adjustment money. "This budget crisis is going to be a multi-year crisis, and we’re budgeting conservatively," Meeker said.