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W. Covina Schools Get Good News : Deficit Less Than District Feared

August 13, 1987|ELIZABETH CARAS | Times Staff Writer

WEST COVINA — The West Covina Unified School District this week received its first bit of financial good news in months. The deficit from the last school year is $2.6 million, not the $3.2 million to $3.6 million that had been anticipated.

"I was really pleased that it didn't turn out to be as large as we expected," school board President Kathleen J. Jones said Wednesday. "It will help us plan much better for the future now that we know the debt is less."

The announcement came at an emotional Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, during which the board announced that it had unanimously voted to fire Jimmie L. Duncan, assistant superintendent for business services. Duncan has been on paid administrative leave since May, when news of the deficit became public.

Neither board members nor administrators would elaborate on the firing, citing advice from the attorney for the school district.

Personnel Cuts

The board also approved $300,000 in personnel cuts for the 1987-88 budget, which would bring the district within $900,000 of the $2.7 million in cuts needed to offset the deficit and provide some funds to begin repaying an emergency loan approved by the Legislature in June to help the district meet its expenses.

Last month, the board approved about $1.5 million in cuts, which included laying off 30 non-instructional employees and eliminating all district funding for field trips and equipment purchases.

The cuts announced Tuesday include the layoff of two media center assistants, three custodians and four cafeteria employees, the elimination of 26 after-school coaching positions and substantial reductions in the number of working hours for both full- and part-time employees.

The largest single cut was expected to come with the elimination of the elementary school instrumental music program. By reassigning the two music instructors to existing classroom positions, the district would have saved about $70,000.

Move Postponed

But bowing to pressure from many of the 75 residents at the meeting, the board postponed that cut until district administrators can explore ways to save the program.

"Cutting that program is getting to the heart," said Lollie Bergman, whose children and grandchildren have attended West Covina schools.

"There has to be some way of doing some jockeying," she said. "Pull that one out of your scissors."

The final decision on the music program, as well as the remaining cuts, will be made at a special meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 26 in the board room of the administration building, 1717 W. Merced Ave.

"I would like to see us find some alternative for providing that (music) program," said board member Tim Irwin. "But I don't want to hold out any false hope to anyone."

Supt. Jane D. Gawronski said the district was "running out of options" in recommending programs and personnel that could be eliminated from the 1987-88 budget.

"We have reviewed exhaustively every program in the district," said Gawronski, who has headed the district for less than two months. "We're not making these recommendations lightly."

Most of the debate at the meeting centered on the music program, in which 350 students in the fourth through sixth grades participate.

"Music is an important part of a child's growth and development," said Marion Sadowsky, whose 14-year-old son, Matthew, is a drum major at West Covina High School.

Other residents offered other suggestions for reductions. Some parents called for the elimination of membership stipends and medical benefits for board members and cuts in travel allowances for top district administrators, which average about $4,000 each annually.

"Where are your priorities?" asked Denise Oien, mother of two elementary school students.

Oien, who along with Bergman was a member of the advisory committee appointed by the board to identify areas in which cuts might be made, said the committee was against cutting any programs that would directly affect students.

"There is still fat in the district," Oien said. "We identified areas that they haven't even looked at yet."

Oien cited the cost of printing the district's tricolored stationery as an example of what she called the excesses the administration is continuing to support.

"They're not a Fortune 500 company," she said. "They're a school district."

Gawronski said the additional $900,000 in cuts will probably come from supply and equipment purchases, insurance programs and additional personnel layoffs.

On Tuesday, the board also authorized the hiring of a Laguna Beach consulting firm to review the district's computer system, used for storing records and other administrative tasks.

Stanley Oswalt, appointed by the state as district trustee, said the review is necessary to determine whether the district should retain the system or look for an alternative model. Last year's unanticipated computer costs, totaling about $1.3 million, significantly contributed to the deficit.

The consultant will be paid a maximum of $5,964 and is scheduled to complete his report by Aug. 26, Oswalt said.

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