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Montebello Schools Study Ways to Cut $7.3 Million

August 16, 1987|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

MONTEBELLO — The Montebello Unified School District is considering raising its pupil-teacher ratio for some grades and eliminating recreational programs as ways to save $7.3 million during the 1987-88 school year.

The Board of Education probably will decide during meetings Tuesday and Thursday what cuts it will make, said Supt. John P. Cook. The 1987-88 budget is to be adopted Sept. 3.

Even if the board makes the $7.3 million in spending cuts, the financially pressed district will have to spend most of its $7.8-million reserve from last year to pay for expenditures in the proposed budget.

"The educational program that we're going to be able to provide next year will be less than we've been able to offer in years past," he said. "There's no way you can cut that amount of money out of the budget and not affect the educational program."

One of the most discussed cuts would result in raising the pupil-teacher ratio in fifth- through eighth-grade classrooms from 31 students per teacher to 33. The proposal would save the district $700,000 because fewer teachers would be needed, Cook said. Some teachers may have to be reassigned but none would be dismissed, he said. Vacancies in the teaching staff by attrition would not be filled.

Lottery Money Used

The district used state lottery money last year to lower the ratio from 33 students per teacher. The pupil-teacher ratio for kindergarten through fourth grade and ninth through 12th grades will remain the same.

"Were struggling now under total budget problems," Cook said. "That's a lot of money and we need that to get through (the) year."

Cook said studies indicate that increases of one or two students per teacher have little effect on the quality of teaching. Perhaps the biggest effect of a slightly smaller classroom is the psychological lift it gives an instructor, he said.

Board President Arthur M. Chavez said he does not want to see the class size increased by more than one student per teacher. He said he would prefer cuts in other areas.

"It's important in those years of school," Chavez said. "If we have the wherewithal to do it, let's take the bull by the horns and do it."

Serves Several Cities

The district has 27 elementary, intermediate and high schools with enrollment of about 30,800. The district serves all or parts of Montebello, Bell Gardens, Commerce, Downey, Monterey Park, Pico Rivera and Rosemead, as well as unincorporated areas of South San Gabriel and East Los Angeles.

The district would have to spend $116 million to maintain last year's programs, district Business Manager Stephen Phillips said. That includes 4.5% to 6% raises for employees, which will cost the district an estimated $4.8 million, increased costs of insurance and other expenses. The raises were provided through employee agreements negotiated by the district in the spring of 1986.

But the district is projecting revenues of $101.8 million for the 1987-88 school year, which will be bolstered by the $7.8-million surplus. The district was planning on receiving $2 million in financial aid earmarked for urban schools, but that was cut out of the state budget, Phillips said.

The district receives one of the lowest levels of funding in Los Angeles County--$2,638 per student, Phillips said.

Loss of Recreation

The Board of Education faces the task of reducing spending to a little over $109 million. Last year, the district spent an estimated $105 million, district Controller Glenn Sheppard said.

Cook also is proposing that the district eliminate its after-school recreational program for a saving of $259,000. The superintendent lamented the possible loss of the program but said cities and community organizations provide similar programs.

"It keeps kids actively involved in healthy sports and some craft activities," Cook said. "It keeps them off the streets and helps youngsters who have single parents, who would go home to an empty house."

Cook also is recommending that the board eliminate four of the district's eight reading improvement teachers to save $200,000.

To save another $76,756, Cook is proposing that the equivalent of 4.5 community aide positions be trimmed from the budget. The community aides serve as liaisons between the schools and the community. Some aides, whose salaries are paid with federal funds, would remain.

The district staff has made numerous other recommendations for trims throughout the budget, including reductions in testing and public information personnel, and music specialists who assist classroom teachers.

Other proposed cutbacks include reductions in contingency funds to pay for possible increases in Medicare costs and increases for the district's three employee medical insurance plans. The district also is considering reducing funding to its workers compensation fund and a state-sponsored school maintenance program.

No Reserve Budgeted

As proposed, the 1987-88 budget contains no ending reserve. The district finished the 1985-86 school year with a $13-million reserve, and it ended the last year with $7.8 million. But escalating expenses to improve and maintain the educational program have decimated the reserve, officials said.

While final figures had not been received, the district was hoping it had spent $3 million less than it budgeted during the 1987-88 school year. That would become the 1987-88 reserve, Cook said.

District officials also are hoping that Gov. George Deukmejian restores at least some of the state funding for urban schools as he did last year.

This year's budget cuts probably foreshadow further financial problems for the district next year, Cook said.

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