Cuts Add Grim Note to O.C. Schools’ Start
Last spring, Orange County school districts expecting massive cuts in state funding prepared budgets for the coming school year that left teachers fearing for their jobs, parents protesting program cuts and students lamenting over fewer sports programs and popular electives.
The state funding cuts, however, were not as deep as expected, and the worst-case scenario budgets were revised for the better. But while the situation could have been much worse, students returning to school next week can still expect to find some of their favorite school programs pared down as a means of holding up financially troubled school districts.
“Usually the school year begins with such excitement and optimism,” said Timothy VanEck, assistant superintendent of personnel at the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District. “This year, it’s going to be a very depressing event. We’ve lost so many people and programs.”
Despite compromises between Gov. Pete Wilson and the state Legislature over education funds, the differences at schools from a year ago will be noticeable. By eliminating cost-of-living increases for schools from the state budget, the governor, in effect, approved a $1-billion education shortfall.
As a result, district officials have spent the summer planning to compensate for reduced budgets. Among the changes:
- There will literally be no free rides for students in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District in South County. Parents there will have to plunk down $150 a year each for their first two children. Bus rides for a third child will cost $75, and all children thereafter ride free.
- An innovative instructional television program in the Anaheim City School District will be forced to rely on reruns. The district saved $759,559 by reassigning five teachers in the program, as well as its engineers and directors. Youngsters will be stuck with repeat video lessons in science, social science and music.
- Students will have to wait longer for care from nurses in Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified. The district fired seven of its nine nurses, leaving just two to provide first aid and other medical care to more than 21,000 students in 30 schools.
- Students will find they have more classmates than ever. Districts unable to hire teachers to replace those who have quit or retired have been forced to compensate by increasing average class size. In the Capistrano Unified School District, each junior and senior high school class will have an average of 31 students compared to 30 last year.
Throughout the county, students will find that cherished programs and services have been drastically reduced or eliminated. In some districts, younger children will not get music lessons; intermediate students will not have bands, and high school students will continue to play on worn instruments.
Even school athletics, once a sacred cow to school trustees, did not escaped unscathed. In Placentia-Yorba Linda, for example, athletes will now be required to pay for transportation to and from games and meets. Uniforms will not be replaced for Saddleback Unified athletes, and less-visible sports such as competitive golf and gymnastics will have to rely more on boosters than on district funding.
“Anything that is not nailed down is going to get cut,” said Robert Cornelius, assistant superintendent for business services at Saddleback Valley Unified. “It’s bleak. It’s as simple as a personal checking account. There’s no revenue coming in, but the rents keep getting higher.”
Like other districts, Saddleback Valley reduced virtually all of its programs to balance its budget. Although the district was able to salvage many programs with an infusion of supplemental grants from the state Department of Education, officials there say the grants offer only a one-year reprieve.
Even the district’s Academic Decathlon program, which produced the state champion Laguna Hills High School team, is barely surviving. This year, schools that want to participate in the prestigious competition will have to find its own funding.
During the spring, Saddleback Valley Unified handed pink slips to its 10 guidance specialists. In June, the district reinstated some of them for up to one year. But despite her reprieve, Serrano Middle School counselor Michelle Dunn-McDermaid fears that students will suffer.
“High school students will have only one person available for college advice,” Dunn-McDermaid said. “That one person will have to juggle a lot of hats. (The counselor) will be doing all personal counseling as well as offering advice on what classes to take and what colleges to go to. That’s really hard.”
The start of this school year will also be subdued at Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified, which had to trim its $100 million budget down to $92 million. School officials increased average class size by two students, reduced its music program, sliced its guidance staff from 26 counselors to nine and will charge its student athletes transportation fees when they travel to meets and games.
For example, baseball players at Valencia High School can pay up to $70 each for the season’s transportation costs. Those who can not afford the fee will not be turned away from the team--furthering district financial problems, school officials said.
Though most districts were able to save their teachers and key employees--650 educators and school workers countywide were handed pink slips in March--jobs are still not guaranteed. For most districts, saving jobs means major reshuffling.
In Santa Ana Unified, several teachers, instructional aides and counselors were reassigned. Of the 152 employees given layoff notices in the spring, 36 have not been reinstated. Some assistant principals, librarians and counselors who have teaching certificates have been reassigned to the classroom.
“School districts did not get any relief from the state,” said John Nelson, assistant superintendent of the business services division of the county Department of Education. “I’m a very optimistic person, but I see things just getting tougher for schools rather than easier. The cuts are going to continue.”
School District Budget Cuts ELEMENTARY DISTRICTS Anaheim City Seven classified employees and teachers were either laid off or reassigned. District has also enacted a hiring freeze in its maintenance department. There will be fewer field trips, and school bus rides will be curtailed. Buena Park Administrative positions vacated by retired employees will not be filled. District is considering increasing class size from 28 to 30 students. Centralia District has enacted an across-the-board hiring freeze. Average class size has increased by one student, from 29 to 30. Cypress The district has not filled open administrative positions. Average class size has increased from 25 students to 26. Fountain Valley No salary raises for employees. A hiring freeze has been enacted. Fullerton District has pared down purchases of new supplies, equipment, and curtailed repairs. Huntingon Beach City District has eliminated one of its three assistant superintendent positions. Purchases of school supplies, including chalk, paper and pens, trimmed by 10%. La Habra City District has laid off 20 part-time community aides and two classified employees. Average class size increased from 27 to 29 students.
HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim Union High Hiring freeze enacted last spring will continue. The district eliminated 40 teaching positions, five administrators, five counselors, 25 custodians and four groundskeepers. Instructional supply budgets cut 10%, and class size is expected to increase. Fullerton Joint Union High District has reassigned six full-time psychologists. Employees who help maintain records reduced from seven to three. One vacant teaching position will not be filled. Huntington Beach Union High Undetermined number of classified employees, instructional aides and clerical staff members have been laid off. Some will be recalled during the year.
UNIFIED DISTRICTS Brea-Olinda Unified District laid off six custodians and eliminated six classified positions through attrition. Capistrano Unified Average class sizes will increase in elementary schools from 28 to 29, and in junior and senior highs from 30 to 31. Irvine Unified District has cut back its highly regarded science and fine arts programs and hiked the price of cafeteria meals. Classrooms will be cleaned every other day. Los Alamitos Unified Four instructional aides and two clerical staff employees were laid off. Students will now have to pay for school bus transportation. Newport-Mesa Unified District has enacted a hiring freeze. Orange Unified District fell victim to the anti-tax crusade, which campaigned vigorously against maintenanceassessment fees. As a result, it cannot pursue a proposed maintenance program. Placentia Unified District cut $8 million from its budget. Average class size will increase by two students. Student athletes must now pay their way to games and meets. Guidance staff was trimmed from 26 counselors to nine. Saddleback Valley Unified The first two students in each family will now have to pay $150 each for school bus transportation, and an additional $75 will be charged for a third child. Pink slips were given to six teachers and 21 classified employees. Santa Ana Unified District has increased class sizes and laid off 30 certificated and classified employees. Tustin Unified District has enacted a hiring freeze, and building repairs have been put on hold for the school year.