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The San Marcos Unified School District confirmed the dismissal of over 100 classified and certificated staff on Tuesday as Teacher Appreciation Week is underway at district sites such as Mission Hills High School.
The San Marcos Unified School District confirmed the dismissal of over 100 classified and certificated staff on Tuesday as Teacher Appreciation Week is underway at district sites such as Mission Hills High School. Courtesy photo
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San Marcos school district rescinds dozens of layoff notices

SAN MARCOS — Dozens of the nearly 200 San Marcos Unified School District staff who received layoff notices in March breathed a sigh of relief this week after being informed that their jobs were, in fact, safe.

However, over 40 teachers and 80 school social workers, teaching aides, nurses and other crucial classified personnel still face unemployment next year as administrators seek to cut costs.

The district community was rocked in March after officials released a list of 97 certificated staff and 93 classified staff who would be without a job in the 2022-23 school year – the largest projected cuts of any school district in San Diego County.

Since then, administrators have worked with school sites to identify leaves of absence and retirements that would allow more staff to stay on, resulting in the rescission of notices for 41 certificated staff and 12 classified staff.

While the district board took final action to dismiss the remaining 125 employees on Tuesday, administrators said there is still the potential for more notices to be rescinded depending on how the state education budget shakes out when finalized in June.

“The district is making budget decisions in March based on a budget that, as we sit here today, is not yet known,” said Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Henry Voros, explaining that the district is awaiting the governor’s May revision of the proposed budget to see if more jobs can be saved. “I’m hopeful that many of the notices will be rescinded in the coming week.”

The majority of staff who received notices requested to have their cases heard by the Office of Administrative Hearings, according to Voros. However, district leadership was able to reach an agreement with certificated staff to continue providing benefits through Dec. 2022 for those whose notices are not rescinded and don’t find other employment.

District leaders have defended the massive cuts as a means of achieving budget stability, with the goal of reducing budget costs for the 2022-23 school year by $15.5 million to prevent worsening deficits in the following years.

After filing a “qualified” budget certification in December 2021 indicating a risk of not meeting financial obligations over the next two years, San Marcos Unified was placed on the fiscal watch lists of the county Office of Education and state Department of Education, according to district spokeswoman Amy Ventetuolo.

Diana Cavenaugh, a data technician at San Elijo Middle School and one of 125 staff members expected to be laid off next year in the San Marcos Unified School District, speaks to the governing board in April about the negative impact of cutting classified staff like herself.
Diana Cavenaugh, a data technician at San Elijo Middle School and one of 125 staff members expected to be laid off next year in the San Marcos Unified School District, speaks to the governing board in April about the negative impact of cutting classified staff like herself. Photo by Laura Place

“SMUSD has been contending with deficit spending primarily due to rising costs, including employee pension increases, expanded services, and increases to utility, supply, and healthcare costs,” Ventetuolo said last month. “SMUSD must close a number of positions in order to address this issue, but again, as we receive retirements or leaves, we are able to then rescind notices. San Marcos Unified must address the structural deficit to ensure the long-term fiscal health of the district.”

Dozens of district staff have spoken up in protest of the “draconian” layoffs, with confusion setting in as nearly half the certificated layoffs were eventually rescinded. Despite the recognition and gratitude expressed to San Marcos Unified School District staff during Teacher Appreciation Week, the irony of looming layoffs overshadowed much of the celebration.

“We have had conversations with teachers that have had to put their houses on the market for fear of not having employment, teachers who may have to change careers if their RIF is not rescinded because they have to pay their bills,” said Dale Pluciennik, president of the San Marcos Educators Association. “Why put them through this process if we don’t have to? It’s not fair to them or their families.”

Nearly all the notices for in-classroom elementary school teachers have been rescinded in an effort to keep cuts as far from the classroom as possible, with the exception of physical education teachers, according to Pluciennik. Six PE teachers are still planned to be cut and six will be moved to part-time roles.

When it comes to certificated staff specifically, Voros said the district selected which layoff notices to rescind based on seniority and number of credentials. There is also the opportunity for at-risk teachers to be assigned to new roles if their credentials allow, he said.

Classified staff cuts

Despite nearly half of certificated staff notices being rescinded, 81 classified staff still face termination in June. Yvonne Britt, president of the San Marcos chapter of the California School Employees Association, advocated Tuesday for classified staff to be prioritized in the same way.

“I know all these people would have loved to come up here and plead for their job, but they’re not gonna have the chance to do that,” Britt said, gesturing to the classified staff present in the boardroom. “If there’s gonna be any you can rescind, cut us in half, take us down from 80 to 40.”

Of particular concern to many was the district’s decision to cut six of the 13 current social workers. Paloma Elementary School teacher Samantha Webb fought through tears to ask the board to rescind these layoff notices, describing the invaluable services they provide to students to support their emotional, social and mental wellbeing.

“Consider the students who have thought that they themselves have no purpose in this world. Teachers are not equipped or educated in properly caring for students with these social, emotional and mental needs,” Webb said.

Paloma school psychologist Sagi Mesa shared similar fears, describing her existing workload of conducting suicide assessments, working with Child Protective Services and tracking down students missing school due to mental health issues. The devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have only exacerbated the need for social workers, she said.

“As school psychologists, we will not be able to provide the necessary mental health supports that are provided by our social workers. I understand the need to make cuts … but cutting the area of greatest need after a pandemic seems counterintuitive,” Mesa said.

District staff recognized the uncertain future still faced by the classified pool, noting that there is the potential for personnel like teacher aides to be displaced to other schools or assigned to similar roles.

“I’m very hopeful that soon we can show some additional movement on the classified side,” Voros said.

State budget questions

Teachers and classified staff pushed the district to explain why so many cuts were necessary amid recent predictions of a nearly $68 million state budget surplus for the upcoming year.

In a presentation to the board on Tuesday, Kevin Gordon of Capitol Advisors Group LLC explained that much of the allocation to districts is expected to be one-time funds that cannot be used for ongoing expenses, along with other restricted funds.

“I expect we’re gonna get a lot of money that is one-time,” he said.

District superintendent Andy Johnson also noted that the state provides additional concentration funding for districts with 55% or more unduplicated pupils — this includes English learners, foster and homeless youth — but that San Marcos Unified does not qualify with 40%.

“Four out of 10 students in our district have these needs, and we don’t get a dime for them,” Johnson said.

SMEA agreement reached

Against the backdrop of layoff notices, San Marcos Unified and the San Marcos Educators Association recently finalized the terms of their 2021 master agreement for the current school year, which involves a 3.5% salary schedule increase for the current year.

The agreement came after months of back-and-forth negotiations that at times grew contentious. Back in February, teachers protested the district’s “insulting” proposal for no salary increase during the current year and an increase of just 1.25% in the upcoming year.

Finalized in mid-April, the master agreement also outlines increased salaries for beginning certificated staff, increased daily rates of $226 and hourly rates of $44.61, new coaching stipends and scheduling of teacher preparation days within the contract.

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