Even though California legislators put more money into the state budget to forestall teacher layoffs, local school district officials say they're not planning to rescind any already-issued pink slips.
The reason: They fear more budget cuts could come in December.
If tax revenues don't continue to grow over the next six months, the state will have to cut another $2.5 billion, including for education.
So districts such as Fresno Unified, which could lay off as many as 71 of its 3,500 teachers, are playing it safe.
"At this point we're moving ahead with the budget we passed in June," said Ruth Quinto, Fresno Unified's chief financial officer. "We don't plan to do any additional hiring."
The Fresno County Office of Education, which provides budget guidance to districts, has recommended administrators budget conservatively as they prepare for the new school year.
"If you bring a teacher back, then you essentially own that teacher for the rest of the year," said Jim Yovino, a deputy superintendent for the county schools office. "If there are cuts in January, then what do you do?"
Even though tax revenues have grown in recent months, Yovino said, "we have a history of the state's revenue projections not coming true."
Some districts, like Clovis and Central Unified, didn't send out pink slips this year. Central reduced class sizes, implemented furlough days, offered early retirement incentives and trimmed spending, while Clovis Unified cut employees' paychecks by 2% and eliminated 27 vice principal, learning director and counselor jobs.
The budget deal brokered last month by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders requires districts not to lay off anymore teachers after June 30 -- even though the budget includes the potential for more cuts if revenues come in too low. Districts that were preparing for August layoffs would be prohibited from doing so.
California schools are required to notify teachers in March about potential layoffs in the following year. Because the state budget is finalized months after that, districts typically overestimate the number of layoffs needed and rehire employees if money becomes available.
Quinto said about 50 tenured teachers at Fresno Unified who had gotten layoff notices will be rehired. By last week 71 teachers still were jobless and on the rehire list.
"We've had some additional attrition, promotions and retirements," Quinto said. "We also adopted a budget in June with a lower class size than what we had [earlier] anticipated, so more jobs have opened up."
The waiting list includes Cynthia Hickey, a former teacher in the reading program at Fresno's Kings Canyon Middle School.
Before the layoffs were announced, Hickey didn't think her job was in jeopardy. With five years' experience and excellent evaluations, she hoped she might survive the budget cuts.
But her hopes evaporated when she saw the expression on her principal's face as he walked into her classroom one day last spring.
"I'm so glad he told me in person," she said. "Otherwise I would have just received a letter in the mail -- and that letter was so cold, just on district letterhead telling me my services were no longer needed."
Since then, she said, she has received a lot of support from teachers still on Kings Canyon's payroll. Her former colleagues are quick to tell her if they hear about other job opportunities.
Still, Hickey said she hopes she will be able to return to teaching in Fresno and hasn't started applying for jobs elsewhere.
"I haven't really been looking," she said.
Other area districts have managed to avoid layoffs of tenured teachers this year.
At Madera Unified, school officials went through massive budget cuts at the end of the 2009-10 school year and laid off 71 people -- including 40 teachers. District spokesman Jake Bragonier said another 55 teachers received pink slips in March.
But once administrators determined that the district would have enough revenue for the 2011-12 year, "all of those notices were rescinded," he said. "We were able to bring all of them back."
At Visalia Unified, Superintendent Craig Wheaton said the district avoided sending out pink slips this year by offering retirement incentives and using leftover federal stimulus money.
But, Wheaton warned, "This is the last year we're going to be able to do that."
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