RANCHO SANTA FE — The discussion of teacher layoffs at R. Roger Rowe first began in February with preliminary layoffs to meet the March 15 deadline as part of the Education Code (California Department of Education). Following mandated hearings, the layoffs were made permanent at the Rancho Santa Fe School District board meeting on May 9.
A total of 16 teachers were laid off effective in the new school year — seven were classroom teachers, and the remainder were part-time teachers or specialists.
According to superintendent Donna Tripi, the layoffs were fueled by declining enrollment. Some of those who received those notices have already been offered temporary contracts because three teachers will be on leave for the next school year.
Tripi said when she started her position of superintendent on Jan. 2, one of the district priorities shared with her at the time of hire and subsequent board meetings was the district budget. The goal: not having a deficit going into the next school year.
“We had a deficit for this year and last year — we felt like next year’s budget needed to be a balanced budget,” said Tripi, adding that she met with teachers and talked to administrators.
Tripi said she looked at the school operations where they could provide services with more efficiency while keeping the district’s programs intact.
A result of her in-depth research were the layoffs because of declining enrollment.
Tripi explained that a school’s budget is mostly personnel at around 80% to 85% with the remaining expenditures going toward items such as supplies and maintenance.
“In our district, we were closer to 92% of the budget was personnel,” she said.
Tripi also noted they had the same amount of personnel when the district had a student enrollment from 700 to 831 back in the early 2000s. Currently, the district has 600 students.
“There were definitely places where we could make some cuts. After the teacher positions were cut, we also looked at being more efficient in the offices and eliminating a few positions in our classified staff and administrators — so we did that as well,” she said.
While there was a significant decline in second and third grade enrollment, Tripi said there was a decline overall in the district.
Tripi pointed out how there was a demographic study done in the fall and one thing assessed was whether enrollment numbers were anticipated to increase since that would help guide what the district could keep in place.
But that wasn’t the case.
An enrollment projection study, conducted by Cooperative Strategies, showed a consistent decline which mirrored a decrease in San Diego County as a whole, not just in Rancho Santa Fe.
“We had 600 students this year, we’re expecting 587 next year, and it’s a continual decline to 2028, where we’re projected to be at around 525 students,” she said.
On the administrative front, Principal Garrett Corduan, who served as middle school principal will now hold the position of K-8 principal. The position of K-5 principal, held by Kim Pinkerton, will return to the classroom.
Tripi also noted the plan of hiring on a K-8 assistant principal.
Despite the layoffs in the new school year, Tripi said that the priority of the board and all of the constituents is to maintain excellence while also implementing more fiscally responsible budget.
“Our programs are intact. Kids will still have a very robust elective schedule, middle school enrichment, and all of the same enrichment classes that they had in elementary school. We still have a science specialist to work with students,” she said. “We will still have a very small class size, 20:1 or under — some of our classes, even at the elementary level, are at 14 and 15 students.”
Tripi said keeping class sizes small is a huge priority as well as is taking a closer look into their math and science curriculum.
“We really want to focus our attention on just making our excellent programs even more excellent for next year,” Tripi said.