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Principals Say Budget Cuts Threaten Education

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Oxnard Elementary School District principals told the board of trustees Wednesday that staff reductions have already harmed some academic programs and after-school activities.

“We’ve stretched our resources as far as we can go,” said Paul Kirk, principal of the Christa McAuliffe elementary school in Oxnard. “We’re running in place, and not heading for the finish line.”

The elementary and junior high principals were invited to the board meeting to tell the trustees how this year’s $3.1-million budget cut, which trimmed 74 jobs, including 17 teaching positions, has affected school operations.

The principals said cutbacks have eliminated some programs and forced teachers and administrators to do double duty in unaccustomed positions.

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Connie Sharp, principal of John Charles Fremont Intermediate School, said cuts that seem small can make a large difference to the students. Referring to the loss of a computer lab technician, she said, “We have a quarter-million dollars of computer equipment just sitting there.”

Gone are state-funded reading specialists, all but one district nurse, the district’s music program and many extracurricular activities like athletic teams and student councils.

The loss of reading specialists was described as “critical” by Carolyn Banks, principal of the Kamala and San Miguel elementary schools in south Oxnard. “Many of the students there come from low-income families and don’t have enough reading experience at home,” she said.

Kirk warned the board that traditional education is threatened. “Soon instructional programs will show some cracks,” he said.

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The loss of three assistant principals and 50 members of the clerical and maintenance staff has forced the principals to absorb many of their duties, the principals said.

“We are all doing many of the things the office staff used to do,” Banks said. “But we can’t do them as thoroughly or successfully.”

Among the extracurricular activities that have fallen victim to the budget cuts is the Young Astronauts chapter at Christa McAuliffe School, Kirk said.

A parent started the program at the school named for the teacher who lost her life aboard the space shuttle Challenger, but the school lacks the staff needed to continue the science-oriented club, Kirk said.

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Other after-school activities have depended on the volunteer efforts of parents to stay alive, Kirk said.

Any hopes the school officials had for additional funds were dispelled by Supt. Norm Brekke before the meeting began. He said a shortfall in state lottery revenues “has exacerbated an already critical financial situation.”

Because of the drop in lottery money, the district has been forced to dip into its contingency fund for another $200,000, said Sandra Herrera, the district’s director of finances.

But the overall financial health of the district is not in jeopardy, with the district maintaining the mandatory 3% reserve, Herrera said.

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Prospects for the next school year’s budget continue to appear grim, Brekke said, adding that there is a “serious likelihood” that more cuts will be needed.

Trustee Mary Barreto said the district’s financial problems have a number of causes. “We’re too big, we’re growing too fast and there’s not enough money,” she said.


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