Board Trims Programs, Passes Lean School Budget

Times Staff Writer

A school budget that pares programs across the board for next year and that has left no one happy was passed unanimously Tuesday by a troubled San Diego city schools board.

From instrumental music instruction in elementary schools, to the gifted and talented program, to districtwide counseling to programs for disabled students, the cuts left untouched practically no area of the curriculum in the $423-million budget that will take effect July 1.

However, the board promised to lobby vigorously in Sacramento for more funding than now proposed by Gov. George Deukmejian, whose schools budget was cited again Tuesday as the reason for the board's cuts.

In a letter to be sent to Deukmejian, the board detailed the many cuts and the community acrimony that has resulted, telling him that "public education is not the place to make the kinds of cuts you are recommending--not while California is ranked 42nd among the 50 states in state and local expenditures for all education as a percentage of total general expenditures."

Passage of the final document came after three weeks of long and sometimes raucous public hearings at which hundreds of parents and students affected by proposed cuts protested strongly.

The board, as a result of public pressures at the hearings, did restore over the past several weeks a portion of the gifted program, minor sports such as golf and field hockey, some English- as-second-language positions, and a circulating library of 800,000 books to elementary schools.

But it did so only by eliminating $1 million originally proposed as a contingency reserve by Superintendent Thomas Payzant. That means the board has no money for a hoped-for revision in the math curriculum for grades kindergarten through eight, for new drug prevention instruction, or for emergency maintenance or other problems that could crop up.

Board members said that education funding recommended for the district under Deukmejian's proposed state budget leaves them short $10.6 million needed simply to maintain the present level of school services due to normal growth and inflation for an estimated 116,000 students next fall.

The Deukmejian budget proposes about a $2 million increase in state monies for the San Diego district--urban America's eighth largest--far less than the $42 million increase that the district received for the current school year.

The new San Diego budget includes no provision for salary increases for any of the district's 11,817 employees. A small 1% raise--which would cost the district $3.3 million--would be considered only if Deukmejian provides additional funds.

The budget would eliminate 190 positions, including 109 teachers, although all but about 10% of the employees would probably be retained by filling different positions vacated because of normal yearly retirements and resignations. The budget vote came Tuesday because the board is required legally to notify by March 15 those employees who may not be rehired for the 1987-88 school year.

The cuts in most cases avoid affecting direct classroom instruction as much as possible, instead targeting support services for teachers and programs across the board, such as districtwide counseling for students with unusual problems, special help for disabled students, and training teachers for bilingual and human-relations programs.

Among the major reductions:

- Elimination of 31 positions in special education areas by reorganizing the $60-million program to save $1.6 million. The cuts eliminate resource specialists, some health services, hourly support teachers, field trips and reference book purchases. For example, special counseling for deaf students would have to be done by on-site teachers, adding to their responsibilities, rather than by districtwide guidance specialists who no visit several schools to perform that specific function.

- Cutbacks in special counseling of students, in training teachers in second-language areas, such as Spanish and Vietnamese, and in training them in human relations skills, for evaluating teaching efforts and programs, and for improving writing skills.

- A 50% cut for preventive maintenance, which would eliminate all but the most essential maintenance jobs, such as keeping boilers operating. Administrators have bemoaned the $500,000 slash because the district has never fully recovered from a $40-million cut in operations and maintenance during the 1980-82 school years.

- Elimination of two integration magnet programs at elementary schools, a remedial reading program for elementary school children, and nursing and other support positions.

In addition, due to the elimination of the reserve, the budget includes no monies to cover possible contingencies, such as a shortfall in lottery monies that Deukmejian estimates the district will receive. The state administration estimates that San Diego will receive $108 per student despite the probability--the state overestimated during the present year--that actual receipts will be less. In the worst case, the district might receive $20 per student less, resulting in an additional $3-million budget shortfall.

The lottery money was originally intended as supplemental state general fund monies but now has to be used to replace monies cut from the general fund, local officials say.

Should the state provide more money following possible legislative compromises with Deukmejian, some programs could be restored or salary increases planned for teachers. But Payzant said that such restorations would not be clear until June at the earliest, after the politicians in Sacramento get down to hard bargaining on the issue.

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