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Folsom school district facing drastic cuts

8 counseling jobs on the chopping block
By: Laura Newell, Telegraph staff writer
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At a recent Folsom Cordova Unified School District special board meeting, lay off notices were approved for school employees. The notices are effective Aug. 13 for eight counselors. According to board officials, to start the school year with the same number of counselors, the district is offering to hire the counselors on an hourly basis through November. If the state?s tax measures fail in the upcoming elections and the district does not have a contingency plan, or an agreement with their employee groups, the eight counselors will not be employed past November. ?This is all because of the possible failure of the tax initiative,? said school district Superintendent Debbie Bettencourt. ?If the initiative fails, we will have to cut $8.5 million.? Bettencourt said additional cuts that would become effective Dec. 1 include reducing the district contribution to athletics by $150,000, closing the library, reducing maintenance, building and grounds workers, reducing half of school transportation and reducing special education instructional aides. Elementary department chairs, secondary division leaders and a special education special project manager position are being eliminated in August, said school officials. Bettencourt said if the upcoming tax initiative fails, approximately 13 total cuts will be made effective Dec. 1. ?It?s just devastating,? Bettencourt said. ?We have been negotiating with our employees since January (on six additional furlough days). It is a hard situation for all of our employees right now.? She said some district employees are opting to take the furlough days. ?Management, including myself, have agreed to take six furlough days which will save $250,000,? Bettencourt said. ?The governor is proposing to shorten the school years by 15 days, but that is not in our students? best interest. This is no way to run a school district and provide excellent education to our students. The state has put us in this position.? She said the best thing people can do now, is to vote in the upcoming elections. ?Voters have a say in what happens in their local school district, through the statewide tax initiative process,? Bettencourt said. ?So I encourage everyone to become aware of what is happening at the state and how it affects our schools.? Michael Itkoff, president of Folsom Cordova Education Association, said he is disappointed in the recent approval. Itkoff said his major concern is the importance of school counselors for growing students and eliminating these positions will in turn hurt the students. ?It?s disappointing, but we do understand that they need to balance their budget,? Itkoff said. ?They chose to do the summer layoffs, because the state was asking them to budget for the worst-case scenario. The superintendent took a calculated risk to not layoff anyone (back in March) with the assumption that (teachers) would take six furlough days. But they just can?t do this. These are families that are hurting in today?s economy. I understand why the superintendent hoped that they would take these furlough days. ? She took a calculated risk.? He said it is important for community members and parents to get involved this election season. ?We want parents and community members to understand how important it is to pass this tax initiative in the upcoming November elections,? Itkoff said. ?If it does not pass, it will really put all school districts in a bind and I think it will put all schools at risk of not being able to pass their budget. This tax initiative is extremely important and needs to pass. We need parents to be aware of what this means for their children?s education.? Samantha Jackson, of Folsom, has a 3-year-old daughter who will soon start preschool. ?I went to high school in Folsom and my counselor helped point me in the right direction with my education so I could graduate,? Jackson said. ?So if they cut eight counselors, they will not have enough time for all these kids. It just smells like failure for these kids.? Cindy Fragomeni, of Walnut Creek, said these days it?s almost expected of parents to pay the extra funding to provide for their children?s public education. ?The public school system is not providing things to students like when I grew up. Now parents have to pay the difference, rather than having the public school provide all services for students,? Fragomeni said. ?So if we want our kids to have the same education as we did, then we will have to pay the extra taxes out of our pocket. It?s almost like it?s expected of us these days.? Still, not everyone in the community is for the tax initiative because it will force residents to pay more taxes. ?I don?t think we need any more taxes right now. I am getting tired of the government saying if we need money, they will just raise the taxes,? said Bonnie Williams, American River Republican Women Federated president and business owner of Folsom Autotech. ?We are small Folsom business owners, and we are struggling.? Williams said taxes are not the answer, but rather there should be cutbacks statewide. ?We need to learn to live within our means. Taxes are not the answer. I feel sorry for the teachers, but there are other places to cut besides teachers,? Williams said. ?The government cuts these important positions in education and law enforcement to hurt us. Rather than looking at cutting upper management and other high powered positions, they cut the positions that will make the average citizen suffer. People just don?t have the money to pay these extra taxes.? For more information on the district budget, visit fcusd.org. For more information on the tax initiative, visit cta.org.