Glendale Unified faces grim future

[Oct. 10, 2012: This post has been corrected, see below for details.]

The message to Glendale Unified parents on Monday night was dire: The school district's budget is so weak that officials will have no choice but to cut personnel and increase class sizes next year. And even then, things could get worse.

Even now, the district is spending $1.5 million set aside for textbooks on employee salaries as an influx of one-time federal money dries up and California continues to roll back education funding, battering Glendale Unified's budget, officials reported.

Held in the auditorium at Crescenta Valley High School, it was the first of three frank budget discussions with parents scheduled in the coming days as district officials attempt to prepare the public for the financial challenges the district faces over at least the next three years.

The district must address $5.4 million in cuts by Dec. 15, according to Eva Lueck, chief business and financial officer for the district. And that's nothing compared to a $36-million deficit projected for 2015-16.

In the last five years, the district has not received $150 million it had expected from the state, Lueck said, prompting $30 million in cuts so far as secretaries, counselors and clerical employees were dropped from the payroll.

Now, Glendale Unified is warning of another round of deep cuts, with plans to shrink by roughly 75 teachers through layoffs or early retirement plans.

“This is going to be one of the most challenging years, and we need to do it,” Lueck said. “It's not optional at this point in time.”

The Los Angeles County Office of Education urged Glendale Unified officials to publicly address its budget problems, Supt. Dick Sheehan said, after the district submitted a three-year budget plan that came up millions of dollars short.

In addition to fewer employees, classroom sizes are due to grow.

At the middle and high school campuses, there could be 38 students to one teacher — up from the current cap of 36.

At the kindergarten through third-grade levels, classes will increase from 24 children per teacher to 30, officials said.

Saying the community “can't change what's happening with the money,” La Crescenta resident Myra Goethals urged parents to volunteer in classrooms.

“It's really important — more than any other time — for parents to get out there and support their schools by being present and really trying to make up where the money falls,” she said. “We can come in as a community and build it ourselves back up.”

California education officials have also given local school districts permission to shorten their school year to save money. Glendale Unified could tap that newfound freedom to reduce the academic calendar to 160 school days. The current school year is 180 days in length.

[For the Record, Oct. 10, 2012: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that the district plans to reduce the length of the school calendar, when in fact, it merely remains an option.]

Of the 20 unpaid teacher furlough days the shorter calendar could create, five are already on the books for 2013-14.

Despite the grave forecast, Sheehan assured parents on Monday that the district would survive — a future that may elude some other districts that are unable to cope with the economic pressure.

“We as a district won't go under,” he said.

The next community meeting will be held at Glendale High School at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15, followed by a meeting at Hoover High on Oct. 22.

Follow Kelly on Twitter @kellymcorrigan.

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