Fresno Unified tries to avoid layoffs in ’12-13 budget

02.09.2012 | Fresno Bee | Eddie Jimenez

Fresno Unified plans to avoid layoffs next school year
and expand transitional kindergarten to all elementary schools over the
next two years, district officials said Wednesday.

Michael Hanson and Trustee Janet Ryan said they were optimistic about
Fresno Unified’s future because the district has maintained a healthy
cash reserve even in the face of state budget cutbacks for education.

The two spoke inside a transitional kindergarten classroom at Thomas Elementary School in central Fresno.

kindergarten was championed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a
way for children who aren’t old enough to enter traditional kindergarten
to still be exposed to an elementary school.

But Gov. Jerry Brown announced in January that he plans to scrap the program to help close the state budget gap.

Hanson said the expansion of transitional kindergarten should
help the district meet its goal to graduate all students — making it
important enough to do even without the state’s help.

from the state in spending money that up to now has been restricted to
certain programs also has helped the district juggle its finances,
Hanson said.

The district’s unrestricted general fund reserves of
$47.5 million will help avoid many cuts next school year, including
layoffs, Ryan said.

However, Greg Gadams, Fresno Teachers
Association president, said district officials could still ask for other
concessions from unions, such as salary cuts and increases in employee
contributions to health care plans. “They haven’t pledged not to do
that,” Gadams said.

The FTA contract expires June 30. When new
contract negotiations begin, union leaders will work to protect salaries
and health benefits, he said.

Fresno Unified officials said
transitional kindergarten — the district has classes at Thomas and
Balderas Elementary so far — lays a strong foundation, especially in
language development, for children when they start kindergarten.

“We know that more time with effective teachers matters,” Hanson said.

said he will recommend to trustees in March an expansion of
transitional kindergarten to all elementary schools within the next two

Transitional kindergarten was created when Schwarzenegger
signed legislation that raised the starting age for kindergarten. The
2010 Kindergarten Readiness Act changed the date by which children must
turn 5 to enter kindergarten from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1. The change will be
phased in one month yearly over three years starting this fall.

goal of pre-kindergarten classes is two-pronged — preparing children
for kindergarten and lessening the odds that they will drop out of high
school years later, Hanson said.

“We’re in the graduation-rate-improvement and early-learning business,” he said.

Flores — whose son, Rossi, attends the Thomas transitional
kindergarten — said she believes children in the class will reap huge
benefits. “They’re exposed to a classroom setting,” she said, “a teacher
with years of experience and the curriculum.”

If trustees approve
Hanson’s plan, district officials would decide where the funding would
come from, district spokeswoman Susan Bedi said.

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