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Fiscal Crisis Hits Schools Hardest : Local Districts Must Prepare for the Worst

Nowhere has the state’s fiscal crisis filtered down in a more visible fashion than at the level of the local school district in Orange County. Some of the numbers are staggering:

Santa Ana, which is dealing with more students in need of English-language training than ever before, faces the daunting task of cutting at least $13.2 million.

It is looking at the possibility of cutting at least 200 positions, among them 84 of the district’s bilingual instructional assistants. Only a few weeks back, educators convening in Orange County from around the state were stressing the urgent need for more bilingual teachers.

Placentia Unified will have to cut as much as $9 million from its budget for next year, and is considering cutting the district’s entire elementary school music program.

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At a time when educators everywhere stress the importance of involving parents, the president of the Assn. of Placentia-Linda Educators, Cindy Lee, laments: “The music program has been one of the few ways teachers have been able to maintain contact with parents.”

Recently, Supt. Lawrence Kemper unveiled budget cuts for consideration by the Huntington Beach Union High School District that would eliminate 28 teaching positions, lay off 11 other employees and close a swimming pool.

Overall in Orange County, at least 500 educators, including teachers, administrators, nurses and counselors, are at risk of losing their jobs for the next school year because of heavy cuts in state education funding.

It used to be that preliminary layoff notices issued by March 15 were a useful exercise in paring down for local school districts, a kind of spring training drill.

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“Flexibility” is the word used by Santa Ana’s Supt. Rudy M. Castruita to characterize a March warning that usually has been followed up with soothing state allocations to schools.

Now, however, the plan appears more like something that actually will have to be followed up with final layoff notices come the May 15 deadline mandated by state law.

These cuts could not come at a worse time, as Orange County increasingly tries to deal with the educational needs of a multicultural population.

Barring some reprieve in Sacramento, local school districts have no choice but to prepare for the worst. They are wise to be looking sooner, rather than later, for ways to consolidate. John F. Dean, the new county superintendent of education, recently began his tenure with a vigorous statement of his interest in being a voice to Sacramento for all the school districts in Orange County, and he has pledged his help in the area of bilingual education.

That’s a start. Also, there may be ways of sharing services that the county can assist in coordinating.


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