Teacher Layoffs Loom in Santa Ana

Times Staff Writer

Facing sharply declining enrollment, Orange County's biggest school district will lay off as many as 100 teachers before the next school year as part of an effort to cut nearly $15 million, district and union officials said Thursday.

The nearly 62,000-student Santa Ana Unified School District is facing the same problem decimating district budgets across the state. More than half of school districts statewide have declining enrollment, and fewer students means fewer state dollars.

Rising housing costs, a declining birthrate and fewer people moving into Santa Ana caused enrollment to fall by 2,300 this year.

District officials expect another drop next year.

"As long as the district keeps losing enrollment, we're going to have to keep making budget cuts," said Don Trigg, associate superintendent of business services.

Housing costs are prompting families to move to the Inland Empire, the Central Valley, Arizona, Nevada and elsewhere, Trigg said, costing the district more than $5,300 per child in annual state funding.

State officials said large school districts throughout California are facing a similar crunch.

"Districts with declining enrollment in urban areas are feeling the pinch, much more than districts in some of the more suburban areas that are seeing really expansive growth," said Hilary McLean, spokeswoman for state schools Supt. Jack O'Connell.

Santa Ana, which has a $453-million annual budget, has been forced to cut back in recent years. In 2004, educators plugged a $29-million deficit by increasing class sizes, eliminating 420 jobs and persuading teachers and administrators to agree to a 4% pay cut lasting two years.

The upcoming cuts will occur in the 2006-07 budget, which will be approved in June. District officials said eliminating the teaching positions would save about $7 million, although it was unknown exactly how many positions would be eliminated. In past years, layoffs have largely been avoided through attrition and early retirement.

But teachers union President Tom Harrison expects scores of layoffs in coming months, particularly at the elementary level.

"It's going to be bad, no question," said Harrison, who leads the nearly 3,000-member Santa Ana Educators Assn. "We may lose 100 teachers."

Trigg agreed that the number could be that high.

An additional $7.8 million will have to be cut from the district's general fund, which pays for school operations, transportation, classes and non-academic programs such as sports. The district has set up a committee to identify areas in which spending can be reduced, as well as a website where residents can submit ideas.

"We try very, very hard to stay away from any programs like music or after-school athletics or security or things like that," said school board President Audrey Yamagata-Noji.

"Unfortunately, we've over the last few years shaved almost everything we could. I'm not sure what they're going to be able to come up with."

Recommendations are expected from the committee by late January or early February.

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