School districts across California slashed teacher payrolls by historic amounts last school year, cutting 15,000 teachers and $1 billion from their budgets, according to a Bee review of new state data.
The roughly 5.5 percent statewide reduction in teaching payroll eclipsed the 3 percent cut the prior year.
"This $1 billion comes on top of years of cuts," said Eric Heins, vice president of the California Teachers Association, the state's largest teachers union. "Overall, we have lost 40,000 teacher jobs over the last four years."
The state budget cuts have increased class sizes, eliminated programs, and closed schools and libraries in districts throughout the state.
The region which includes Yolo, Placer, El Dorado and Sacramento counties lost 925 teaching positions through layoffs and retirement incentive programs. Thirty-seven districts reported teacher payroll cuts, while 10 reported increases.
The biggest payroll cuts occurred in Elk Grove Unified, Natomas Unified and Folsom Cordova Unified.
Elk Grove, the region's largest school district, reduced its teaching payroll by $25 million, the largest dollar amount in the state except for Fresno Unified and Los Angeles Unified. School board President Chet Madison calls the 12 percent payroll cut "very concerning."
Layoffs have meant cutting successful programs, said Madison, although the district has managed to maintain smaller class sizes. He said payroll makes up 80 to 85 percent of the district's general fund.
Natomas reduced teacher payroll by 16 percent and, relative to staff size, is unparalleled in the region. Natomas Teachers Association President Kristen Rocha said the teaching staff in the 12,000-student district has dropped to 410 from over 600.
"We can't imagine losing more," Rocha said. "We have large class sizes."
School board President Bruce Roberts said the union agreed to increase class sizes eliminating jobs in lieu of taking a bigger pay cut.
"Throw the young ones (teachers) overboard," he said about the decision. "It's less of a hit on our pocketbooks."
Folsom Cordova Unified had the next largest reduction in payroll 13 percent among urban districts.
Average teacher pay statewide remained flat at $67,900, indicating cuts came from the top and bottom of the pay scale as teachers were laid off and others retired.
At the superintendent level, after a decade of steady salary increases, statewide and locally the average superintendent's salary remained essentially flat at just below $160,000. Eighteen area districts cut superintendents' pay, 12 froze their salaries and 14 opted to increase superintendent compensation.
Some received raises.
San Juan Unified, the region's third-largest school district, increased the amount paid to its superintendent by $24,000 to $261,000, according to data the district submitted to the state. With that raise before retirement, Pat Jaurequi's base salary was the region's highest. The district cut teacher payroll by 2 percent.
San Juan Unified officials said Jaurequi's salary isn't really the highest. A $12,000 annual stipend for mileage and other expenses were merged into her base salary, as was $4,000 from a district annuity contribution. The superintendent received an $8,000 raise that was in her original contract, said Trent Allen, district spokesman.
"The shift in fringe benefits to salary became effective Jan. 1, 2010," Allen said. "Without that shift, her base salary would have been $245,000 bringing her in line with existing salaries of the superintendents of neighboring large school districts."
Shifting benefits into superintendent salaries seems to be a growing trend. Rick Hennes, superintendent of River Delta Unified, said what appears to be a pay bump of $11,000 is not. Hennes said the board agreed to roll his mileage and health benefit stipends into his salary after he went on his wife's insurance.
"I plan to retire in a few years and didn't want to do this the last year of my service and have STRS (California State Teachers Retirement System) say that I was spiking my salary," Hennes said in an email.
Adding stipends for expenses and benefits to salaries doesn't cost districts anything. Pension system officials were vague on whether it could boost superintendents' pensions.
Merging benefits into salaries isn't a problem unless done solely for retirement benefit, said Ricardo Duran, spokesman for the California State Teachers Retirement System. It usually doesn't raise a red flag unless it happens in the last five years of a person's retirement, followed by the district discontinuing the practice with the next superintendent, he said.
Still, many districts reduced their top salary. El Dorado Union High School District decreased the amount paid to its superintendent by $33,000. The district had previously paid its superintendent $229,000; it hired Christopher Hoffman last year at $196,000.
Davis Unified and Elk Grove Unified also reduced superintendent pay by more than $10,000 last school year. Davis Unified hired a new superintendent at a lower salary, while Steven Ladd of Elk Grove Unified took a $12,000 hit because of furlough days and other temporary pay cuts.
The figures come from a voluntary state survey that districts submit along with other financial districts. About 83 percent of districts collectively covering 99 percent of the state's students completed the survey.