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Board Cuts 39 Non-Teaching Positions : Antelope Valley: The fourth round of layoffs brings to about 140 the number of jobs eliminated in the deficit-plagued district.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Trustees of the Antelope Valley Union High School District, struggling to keep the district solvent, have voted to lay off another 39 non-teaching employees, despite emotional warnings from principals and others that the district’s schools are heading for a collapse.

The latest round of layoffs, the fourth this year, brings to about 140 the total number of employees jettisoned, about a 15% staff reduction. The six-campus, 12,835-student district has been struggling to recover from a budget shortfall of $12 million created by mismanagement.

The layoffs are expected to save the district about $500,000 for the remainder of the school year and will enable the district to balance its budget for now. But officials warned more cuts may be needed later in the school year.

Anguished teachers and staff members begged the school board Wednesday night to find other cuts, such as eliminating or scaling back student athletics. But board members balked at the idea and voted 4 to 1 for the layoffs, warning that otherwise the district could face a state takeover.

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The Los Angeles County Office of Education this year appointed a fiscal monitor to oversee the district after audits revealed that the district’s top two business officials had mismanaged its finances. The two officials have since left the district and the superintendent was ousted by trustees, who were surprised by the revelations of financial distress.

About 150 people attended the often emotional two-hour meeting, many of them support staff members wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with a bull’s-eye and the phrase “Endangered Species.” The latest layoffs affect career counselors, custodians, maintenance workers and security guards.

Although 25 teaching jobs have been cut since the start of the year, teachers and staff members argued Wednesday that the accumulated loss of support personnel has left the district’s schools dangerously unsafe because of security cutbacks.

“It has placed a tremendous burden on the sites and the people,” said Ralph Vandro, principal at Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster. “I’m not sure we can operate through this semester,” Vandro added. “I’m fearful that a student could be hurt. I’m fearful of the gangs.”

“This is a cowardly way to undermine the integrity of the functioning sites,” said Charles Keortge, a veteran district teacher. “We have reached the point of making our campuses unsafe,” Keortge added, saying the latest cuts “bring this district to the brink of disaster.”

Because of prior funding cuts, the district’s schools already have been short of such basics as textbooks and copier paper. Average class sizes hover between 40 and 50 students because of the teacher layoffs.

But Wednesday night’s session evoked two newer problems: district officials and employees alike spoke of widespread demoralization from the repeated cutbacks. And, although there were no statistics, employees also told of increasing problems with student fights and other disturbances.

School board members, ordered by the county to balance the district’s $54.1-million budget, said they had no choice with the layoffs, scheduled to take effect Dec. 11. “I know it’s going to be tight, but I don’t see any way out of it,” Trustee Charles Whiteside said.

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The lone dissenting vote came from board member Steve Landaker, who said the district could not stand further layoffs. “If we lay off these 40 employees, we might as well shut the door anyway,” Landaker said. “Let’s move a little bit slower and think about this.”


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