GUSTINE - The Gustine Unified School District is tightening its belt in some areas while adding more counseling resources for students and beefing up support for teaching staff.

The recently-adopted budget for 2019-20 reflects the elimination of two classroom teaching positions and the equivalent of nearly five full-time classified positions, converts two intervention teacher positions to instructional coaches and adds two counseling positions - one in place of a vice principal at Gustine Middle School.

Overall, the adopted $22.5 million budget is about $384,000 in the black and with an ending fund balance of $5 million.

The district has seen an enrollment decline of 45 students in the past two years, Chief Business Officer Lizett Aguilar told trustees when presenting the budget in June, and that impact will be felt on the budget going forward. Enrollment is projected to remain fairly stable over the next three years.

Dr. Bryan Ballenger, district superintendent, indicated that the enrollment decline of the past two years and the desire to realign resources to better serve students and teachers were factors in the staffing changes.

More counseling services will be available to students under the new structure, Ballenger told Mattos Newspapers.

“We have added a counselor at the middle school instead of replacing the assistant principal position there, and we added an elementary counselor who will work three days a week at Gustine Elementary and two days at Romero,” he explained. “Last year we added a psychologist, but we realized that the needs were beyond our two psychologists, especially at the middle school and elementary levels.”

The district’s goal is to provide greater support for positive behavior intervention and better meet the social/emotional needs of students, Ballenger noted.

“We are seeing students who are dealing with issues of anxiety, depression, body image and suicidal tendencies,” Ballenger remarked. “We are seeing quite a bit of that.”

With the additional counseling services, he said, the district hopes to shift from crisis intervention to more of a preventative approach with students.

“We want to be able to work with students and check in with all students regularly,” Ballenger commented. “Students come to us with a variety of needs, and if we can meet them where they’re at it will have a positive impact on their learning.”

Another shift in staffing will see two veteran educators, Donna Torres and Cathy Filippini, assigned as educational coaches.

Filippini was previously an intervention teacher, while Torres is a long-time kindergarten teacher at Romero, which will transition from two kindergarten classes to one next year due to lower enrollment.

Intervention services will continue to be available at Romero and GES, Ballenger emphasized, while Torres and Filippini focus on providing support for classroom teachers.

Torres will work at the elementary level, while Filippini will be assigned to the middle school and high school.

Ballenger said the educational coaches will prove to be valuable resources for classroom teachers - particularly those newer to the profession.

“They are there to support teachers. They are not there to report to administration on what is going on in classrooms or to do an evaluation,” the superintendent said. “It is very difficult for any human to go to their boss and say they are struggling with something. This builds a teacher to teacher relationship.”

The new budget reflects an estimated decrease of $1.4 million in general fund spending from the 2018-19 year.

The district expects to see a general fund deficit of $668,000 for the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to the budget document, much of which was attributed to one-time expenditures during the year using revenues collected over multiple years.

For the next three years, however, budget projections show the district general fund in the black - with the caveat that the outlook is subject to downturns in the state budget which could impact funding.

The district retains healthy reserves, Ballenger stressed.

“We are in a good position. I think the budget is solid and represents where we are and how we want to move forward,” he concluded.