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School board preps for cuts, new priorities

Despite stabilizing property taxes and voters approving Proposition 30, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District's 2013-14 budget isn't balanced, an official said.

The district will still need to shave about $3.2 million from its more than $220-million budget, Deputy Supt. Paul Reed told the school board during a budget update.

"We're still out of balance," he said.

At their meeting Tuesday, Reed cautioned trustees to not count on increased support from Sacramento, meaning programs previously funded by the state and continued by the district will keep weighing on the budget.

Trustee Katrina Foley, who earlier in the meeting questioned $6 million in construction costs at Early College High School, suggested the board look at itself for cuts before programs.

"I just think we cannot continue to have these huge catering budgets we have or these huge conference budgets we have," she said.

Reed said that likely will not be enough.

"Things like catering, things like travel, things like the degree to which you have appreciation programs, those are dollars, and they do add up," he said, but added that most costs come down to staffing.

"The mantra is always as far from the classroom as possible. At this point in time I don't know if you're going to have the luxury to get there," Reed said.


New president

Leadership on the board shuffled slightly Tuesday as trustees selected a new president during its annual organizational meeting.

Dana Black, previously vice president, took the helm. Former clerk Karen Yelsey took over as vice president, and longtime member Judy Franco was elected clerk.

Each was chosen with a unanimous 6-0 vote. Board member Foley was absent for the organizational portion of the meeting.

David Brooks ended his one-year term as president. He, Black and Martha Fluor all ran unopposed for reelection in November.

"Truly, Dave, you have been our leader over the last year, and it's really been appreciated by each and every one of us," Black said.

As he stepped down, Brooks recalled a tumultuous 2012 during which the board fired former Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard and embarked on a search for a replacement.

Hubbard was convicted of two felony counts of misappropriation of public funds while he was superintendent of Beverly Hills' school district.

"It has been a rather puzzling year in many respects," Brooks said. "We have been through many different things. And we now have Dr. [Fred] Navarro here, and we are very, very pleased."


2013 agenda

After installing new leaders, the board unanimously approved its academic, creative and behavioral priorities for the upcoming year.

Academically, the board will focus on creating curriculum that meets CSU and UC admissions requirements, and try to increase Newport-Mesa's share of National Merit Scholars to meet or exceed the average.

Creatively, the board will continue implementing its flagship program that aims to pair each of its four school zones with signature artistic and academic disciplines.

Behaviorally, trustees will focus on developing a so-called restorative justice program within the district.

While it remains to be developed, Navarro expressed interest in creating a continuum of discipline that may still expel students for some actions but teach offenders what they did wrong in less severe cases.

"We want to make sure that things don't snowball on kids," a missed detention becoming a missed suspension ending in an expulsion, he explained.

What that means in practice at Newport-Mesa remains to be seen.

"Really it's a philosophy more than it is a canned program," he said.


Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck

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