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Acclaimed Reading Plan Falls Victim to Budget Ax

January 21, 1987|LEONARD BERNSTEIN | Times Staff Writer

San Diego school trustees ended an acclaimed remedial reading program for elementary-school children Tuesday as they chopped $3.6 million out of the proposed 1987-88 budget in an attempt to balance their ledgers.

The demise of the 22-year-old Miller-Unruh reading program--and the 47 teaching spots it includes--is just the first of many tough decisions the board will make in coming weeks. Finance officials said Tuesday that the district must cut $8 million more before next year's budget will be balanced.

If Gov. George Deukmejian's 1987-88 budget proposal emerges unchanged from the Legislature, the San Diego Unified School District will operate with less money next year than it has this year--the first time since 1983 that the school system has faced that prospect. In the past three years, district revenue has jumped $115.7 million.

"It hurts me . . . as much as it hurts you," Trustee Dorothy Smith said before the unanimous vote. "But if we're going to be responsible and present a balanced budget, we have to make cuts that hurt all of us."

The school board delayed another controversial budget-cutting move, the elimination of "fundamental skills" magnet programs at Rolando Park and Foster elementary schools, giving themselves another week to study the programs.

Tuesday's $3.6 million in cuts eliminates 125 staff positions, almost all of them through attrition and retirement. The total could change next week, when additions and cuts in integration programs will be considered with the Rolando Park and Foster magnet programs.

Eliminated Tuesday were more than five nursing positions and more than 22 jobs in special education programs for children with mental and physical handicaps.

But the reading specialists, who last year worked with about 4,000 children in kindergarten through third grade, received the most support from speakers at the board meeting.

"You cannot have looked at all the alternatives," said school activist Katie Klumpp, speaking for the state PTA. "You cannot think that everything that is not being cut is more important than teaching kids to read."

Deukmejian has proposed cutting the state's portion of the Miller-Unruh program, which amounts to about 45% of the local district's funds. Tuesday's vote cuts off the district's portion, but 50% of the money will be diverted to a less specialized remedial program in reading, writing and language arts.

After hearing criticism Tuesday that they are ending the reading program before Deukmejian's budget is finalized, the trustees agreed to consider restoring it if legislators succeed in preventing its demise in Sacramento.

An analysis of Deukmejian's budget proposal this week showed that the school district will receive just a 1.1% increase in general funds from the state next year, said Rick Knott, the district's financial accounting director.

Special funds for urban school districts, gifted and talented students and special education are being cut off entirely, he said, adding that integration revenue will amount to less than the amount received this year.

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