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Schools in Simi Are Facing Big Shortfall : Budget: The district blames the state and a raise for teachers. The union cites officials’ salaries and gadgetry.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There is no disputing that the Simi Valley Unified School District is facing a major financial crisis.

But there is disagreement about how the largest school district in the county ended up with a projected shortfall of $8 million for next year--more than 10% of its entire $69.9-million budget.

District officials say limited state funds, combined with an 8% salary increase for teachers for the next school year, are largely responsible. Proposed cuts in state funding account for at least $934,014 of the projected deficit, and the teachers’ salary increase accounts for about $3 million of it.

School employees and union representatives, while acknowledging the effect of the state budget difficulties, blame poor planning, large salaries paid to administrators and unnecessary spending by officials for some of the district’s problems. For example, they cite the recent purchase of a satellite dish for the district’s headquarters and a cellular phone for the superintendent’s car.

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“If they thought they were going to be in a bind . . . they did nothing to prepare for it,” said Ronald Myren, president of the Simi Valley Educators Assn., which represents the district’s 750 teachers. “If I ran a household the way they run this district, I would be bankrupt.”

To balance the district’s budget, the Board of Education has decided to lay off 32 temporary teachers and 28 clerical and service employees, including five of its 10 nurses, beginning July 1.

The board has also approved plans to reassign dozens of administrators to lower-level positions with reduced salaries, and has implemented reductions in purchases of instructional materials and a freeze on hiring and travel expenses.

Allan Jacobs, associate superintendent of instructional and educational services, who has worked for the district for 18 years, said he cannot recall a more bleak financial outlook.

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“This is the worst,” Jacobs said. “These are survival times.”

Although other school districts in Ventura County are also facing budget problems, none are as severe as Simi Valley’s, school administrators say.

Simi Valley district officials calculate that the governor’s proposed state budget for education will provide school districts with about $51 less per student than current funding levels. Gov. George Deukmejian announced last week that the state is expecting a $3.6-billion shortfall in its budget next year.

The district has about 18,314 students and would receive about $934,014 less than it did last year under the proposed state budget for education.

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District officials say a steady decline in student enrollment and an increase in the dropout rate has added to their funding problems. For example, the district’s current student enrollment is more than 6,000 fewer than the all-time high of 24,378 in 1974. The dropout rate has increased by 34% during the past three years.

District officials say the 8% salary increase for teachers due next year under the terms of a three-year contract is also a contributing factor to the massive deficit. Labor costs make up about 85% of the district’s budget.

The 8% salary increase for teachers next year will cost the district about $3 million, said Hal Vick, a representative of the teachers union.

In an effort to offset some of the deficit, district officials in February asked the teachers union to sacrifice more than half of the salary increase. The union refused, saying it had bargained in good faith and that it was the district’s responsibility to balance the budget.

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Myren said that district officials simply failed to plan ahead in order to avoid major cutbacks.

For example, he said that since January the district has spent $3,600 for a communications satellite dish for its headquarters, $79,000 for four new maintenance trucks. Despite repeated inquiries, district officials would not disclose how much was spent for a cellular phone for the superintendent’s district-issued car.

Myren said that while the purchases may be legitimate, district officials picked the wrong time to make them.

But district officials maintain that the items purchased were necessary and, in some cases, will pay for themselves.

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For example, Jacobs said that the satellite dish is used to receive educational programs from different parts of the country. These programs, which can be seen on a television monitor at the district’s headquarters, provide a wide range of instructional information for teachers.

Jacobs said the big advantage to having the dish is that teachers can get information usually obtained at conferences. As a result, it cuts down on teacher travel expenses. “It’s proven itself to be a valuable tool,” Jacobs said of the satellite dish. “If we didn’t have it, we would be out of the mainstream for education.”

As for the new trucks, Jacobs said that they were necessary because many of the district’s maintenance vehicles are more than 10 years old, with some having as many as 200,000 miles on them.

The superintendent’s cellular phone, he said, is simply a tool to provide a more efficient means of communication between the administrator and district offices.

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Board member Lew Roth also defended the purchases, citing the same reasons for them as Jacobs.

“As far as the teachers or the union leaders saying that we could have spent the money better or differently, that’s their standard line,” Roth said. “I think we have been prudent with the taxpayers’ money.”

But Myren said that the district’s expenses this year are not the only cause of concern to teachers and other employees. He said that while district officials keep citing the teachers’ 8% raise as one of the reasons for the deficit, they fail to acknowledge the large salaries paid to administrators.

Dist. Supt. John W. Duncan, who has served as the district’s chief administrator for more than 15 years, is among the 10 highest-paid superintendents in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, according to 1989-90 records. Duncan’s base salary is $96,517, about $400 less than the superintendent of the Beverly Hills Unified School District.

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Simi Valley’s two associate superintendents are the highest paid in Ventura County at $78,918, about $2,000 more than the assistant superintendents of the Hueneme Elementary School District, who make $76,735. All are base salaries and do not include benefits, travel expenses and other perks, such as district-issued cars.

The Hueneme district has about 7,000 students, compared to Simi Valley’s 18,000.

At the same time, in terms of teachers’ salaries, the district ranked ninth when measured against 10 districts of comparable size and socio-economic profile in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

“We’re in the cellar as far as the pay scale,” Myren said.

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Duncan, who was attending a conference in Santa Barbara, could not be reached for comment.

Speaking of his own pay, Assistant Supt. Jacobs said: “It’s hard to make salary comparisons because it depends on what you do and what you accomplish. I manage a very large district with very few people.”

Roth agreed, saying that because the Simi Valley Unified School District, with an enrollment of 18,000 students, is the largest school district in the county, the responsibilities for administrators are greater.

“I don’t apologize for it,” Roth said of the large salaries. “The individuals are well worth their pay.”

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One thing administrators and employees can agree on is that they are both facing a hard road ahead, one pitted with more uncertainties and challenges.

Agnes M. Zagar, head librarian at Simi Valley High School, is one of those who will be directly affected by the job reassignments that will be made in the fall. Zagar will be taking the place of one of the temporary teachers who will be laid off.

Beginning in September, Zagar will work only three hours a day in the library and will spend the rest of her time teaching two classes, most likely in history and geography.

Zagar is a little apprehensive about the change because, she said, she has not taught in a while.

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“It’s going to be difficult,” Zagar said, “to go back into the classroom after 22 years.”

Simi Valley school officials will join representatives from districts in Ventura, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo counties in a press conference Tuesday in Thousand Oaks to discuss the proposed state budget for education and its effect on their schools. The districts are planning to send a letter to the governor and state legislators asking that no more cuts in the education budget be made.

Times Staff Writer Aurora Mackey Armstrong contributed to this article.

TOP TEACHERS’ SALARIES

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The following is a list of Ventura and Los Angeles County districts comparable to Simi Valley Unified School District, based on similar enrollment and socio-economics. The salaries show the pay of veteran teachers based on 1989-90 statistics.

District Salary Enrollment 1. Pomona $47,982 25,183 2. Montebello $45,100 31,731 3. Downey $40,301 14,233 4. Las Virgenes $39,743 8,931 5. ABC $39,606 21,243 6. Norwalk-La Mirada $39,530 18,511 7. Torrance $39,124 19,019 8. Simi Valley $38,450 18,314 9. Conejo $38,239 17,765 10. Ventura $38,170 15,200 Position Average $40,494

TOP-SALARIED SUPERINTENDENTS

The following is a list of top 10 highest paid superintendents in Los Angeles and Ventura County unified school districts according to 1989-90 figures.

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District Salary Enrollment 1. Los Angeles $164,555 592,881 2. Montebello $115,800 31,731 3. Long Beach $114,000 66,784 4. Pomona $110,000 25,183 5. Azusa $99,969 10,176 6. Bellflower $98,923 9,263 7. Beverly Hills $96,915 4,741 8. Simi Valley $96,517 18,314 9. Glendale $95,477 22,954 10. Pasadena $93,698 21,590


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