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PLACENTIA : Deep Cuts Outlined by School Officials

Placentia Unified School District officials outlined a preliminary proposal to eliminate all school counselors and nurses, as well as some physical education and music programs in elementary schools, in an effort to trim $9.2 million from the district’s budget.

The proposals also include cuts in special ninth-grade language arts programs and first-grade part-time reading teachers, layoffs of all school psychologists, streamlining of bus routes and increasing class sizes.

“We are really concerned,” school trustees were told by Loretta Benson, one of 40 parents at Tuesday night’s board meeting. “Our children love the music programs. . . . (The cuts) are really scary. They make my knees shake.”

The trimming proposals came in response to reports that the district could face a $9.4-million deficit. District officials said they could lose $2.8 million in state revenue if Gov. Pete Wilson’s proposed budget is adopted in full and if lottery revenues continue to decline. The district is also faced with $6.6 million in new expenditures for employee raises, property tax hikes and new county fees for collecting taxes and assessments for sewers.

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“We have to prepare for the worst-case scenario,” said Timothy VanEck, assistant superintendent for personnel services. “This is going to hurt bad. It’s one of the most painful things I have been through.”

In all, 158 positions would be eliminated under the district’s plan. State law requires that certificated staff members, including teachers, nurses and some principals, be given notice of possible layoffs by March 15. The school board is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to issue the notices.

VanEck stressed that many employees could be hired back later this year if the state budget picture changes.

“This is preliminary information only,” district Supt. James Fleming told the board. “But we have to take some action now to keep the district from going bankrupt.”

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The most devastating impact on the district would come from a suspension of Proposition 98, which calls for public schools and community colleges to receive at least 40% of state general fund revenues.

The district’s proposed cuts are heavy in management and staff positions because 83% of its budget goes toward personnel, VanEck said. School officials are attempting to leave core academic programs intact, he said.

The proposals include combining classes and eliminating courses with low enrollment, which could save the district $1.6 million, VanEck said. The cuts would also include six high school athletic department positions, 16 assistant principal positions and several English-as-a-second-language teaching positions.

School trustees were dismayed at the prospect of eliminating programs and employees.

“This is horrendous, this is awful,” said trustee Barbara Williams, who added that she can remember “the agony the district went through in establishing these programs.”

Steve Parmenter, a sixth-grader at Yorba Linda Middle School, presented a petition with 228 signatures urging the board not to cut choir programs.

“Music is not a luxury, but a necessity for our education,” the boy told the school board. Officials said the choir programs were not threatened by the cuts.


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