The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education has approved a proposal allowing for the potential layoffs of up to nearly a dozen employees this year.

The board voted 5-1 at its Feb. 17 meeting to adopt a resolution for the issuance of notices for the possible reduction of full-time elementary teachers and nurses. The recommended reduction of “particular kinds of services” includes six K-5 teaching and 5.6 nursing positions, and could take effect no later than the beginning of the 2011-12 school year.

Board members and district officials noted that the resolution does not authorize the layoffs of the certificated employees but will rather allow the district to meet the state’s March 15 deadline for notifying employees of the potential reductions.

“As difficult as this decision is, it’s not a final decision,” Board Member Laurie Lieberman said.

“We’re not voting to actually lay off anybody at this point but we’re doing this to allow the staff and the board the flexibility to do so if we decide that’s the direction we need to go in.”

In addition to providing the district some flexibility in addressing anticipated budget challenges, Debra Moore Washington, assistant superintendent of human resources, said the reductions were recommended “out of an abundance of caution.” With the deadline for notification looming, Los Angeles Unified School District staff have proposed up to 5,000 layoff notices for employees out of caution, Washington told the Santa Monica-Malibu board.

According to the resolution, the proposed reduction is based on the elimination of particular kinds of services and not due to the reduction of average daily attendance over the past two years. In regards to the full-time K-5 teaching positions, the district projects enrollment to be slightly down at the kindergarten level next year, which may result in the need for fewer teachers at the elementary level, Washington said.

The school district must also be cautious because officials are not certain how the state budget will be structured this year, she added. The district receives 75 percent of its general fund from the state. Last year, having faced a loss of $10 million in state funding over the previous two years, the school board initially approved layoff notices for 92 full-time employee positions.

After calling for 11.6 position cuts this year, district officials will likely know by May whether the layoff notices will stay in effect or can be rescinded, Washington said.

Lieberman read a letter from the Financial Oversight Committee stating that it “realizes the difficulty in taking such action when so much uncertainty exists at the state level.”

Tom Bellan, a Lincoln Middle School parent, told the board that the vote for layoff notices seems to be taking place very early in the process.

“I don’t have great confidence that this has to start now by laying off people nowŠ when you haven’t even allowed the task force to do its work,” he said.

Harry Keiley, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the vote.

District Superintendent Tim Cuneo said that staff have not recommended any additional reductions to the 11.6 positions and he believes that funding provided from the Save Our Schools campaign and Measure Y will give the district some support.

Board Member Ralph Mechur said he didn’t see the need to support the measure at this time, explaining he believes that the resolution will cut short the discussion about what the possibilities are to avoid staff cuts.

But Board Member Oscar de la Torre said the resolution merely gives the board flexibility in the process and does not necessarily lead directly toward layoffs.

“This decision in no way says that we are moving directly in this area,” de la Torre said.

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