Because of an expected decline in enrollment of approximately 181 students for the 2007-08 fiscal school year, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is considering decreasing its full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching positions by 26.

This will more appropriately align teaching positions with the actual number of students enrolled in the school district, district officials say.

But even with the potential reduction in teachers, district superintendent Dianne Talarico assures, “No one is becoming unemployed. No one is losing their job. That’s the truth.”

The matter was brought before the school board as a discussion item at its meeting Thursday, May 17th, and was among other things discussed under the first “detailed” look at the district’s 2007-08 budget.

Over the past three years, the district’s enrollment has decreased by over 900 students as a result of a more restrictive district policy which has the goal of reducing overcrowding in Santa Monica-Malibu schools. Enrollment is projected to continue declining. During this same period, staffing has increased.

“We planned for declining student enrollment, but the years in which we were declining enrollment, we were increasing staff,” said Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association (SMMCTA) teachers union president Harry Keiley. “At this time, we cannot continue to do that.

“Although the reduction of teachers for next year is not what we would prefer, we fully realize that you cannot decrease student enrollment and increase teachers in order for the system to be sustainable. Student and teacher ratios need to be aligned.”

Others, like school board vice president Oscar de la Torre, agree.

“Fiscally, it’s the most responsible thing to do,” said De la Torre. “In a cash-strapped district, the fiscally prudent thing to do is to align your student population with appropriate staffing patterns.”

Still, it’s important to note that the reduction in teachers will take place by attrition and that no cuts will be made.

“With so many retirements this year, the alignment will take place through natural attrition,” Keiley said. “These aren’t cuts. Any implication that these are cuts is definitely misleading. These are reductions that are based on strategic planning.”

More than 30 teachers are expected to retire at the end of this school year.

“I know 25 retirees as of today,” said Talarico, who also knows of several teachers set to resign from the district.

“This is a combination of teachers retiring, teachers not being rehired for various reasons,” said de la Torre. “It’s sort of a natural thing that occurs in school districts.”

Currently, the district’s enrollment is at 11,902, Talarico said. But the projected enrollment of the 2007-08 school year is 11,721, a student reduction that translates into a $1 million reduction in the district’s revenue stream.

“The reduction in teachers is necessary and a direct result of the reduction in the number of students we serve in our district,” said Keiley, who points out that it will help to sustain the district in later years.

De la Torre adds, “As our student population declines, we will look for ways to reduce our staff so that we continue to provide excellent services at the best cost to the public.”

The matter will come back before the board in June.