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West Covina Schools Grit Teeth, Tighten Belts

August 30, 1987|JEFFREY MILLER | Times Staff Writer

When administrators revealed four months ago that the West Covina Unified School District would be $2.6 million in debt by the end of the fiscal year, members of the Board of Education were shocked. Why, they asked, had the district gone so far in debt without their knowledge? How could the district cover the shortfall without impairing the educational process?

Last week, board members received the answers to both questions. Armed with a consultant's report that chronicled in painstaking detail alleged fiscal mismanagement, the board embarked on a recovery plan Wednesday night that portends lean times ahead, but spares the most vital educational programs.

The recovery plan, approved unanimously by the school board, calls for more than $3.1 million in spending cuts for the 1987-88 school year, with more than half coming out of the district's personnel budget.

Including cuts made during the summer, the district will terminate 44 full-time non-teaching positions and reduce the hours or pay classifications of 66 other non-teachers.

Those displaced include counselors, librarians, remedial and bilingual instructional aides, office workers, custodians and one of the two instructors for the elementary school music program.

"I've been in education a number of years, but I've never had to face this type of reduction," said Robert E. Read, the district's director of personnel services. "It was very difficult for my people."

Of all the cuts, the elimination of the music teaching position aroused the greatest opposition from parents, some of whom have formed a nonprofit organization to raise funds for the elementary school music program.

Parent Jay Munns asked the board on Wednesday to continue paying the salaries of both music instructors for one semester to give the group time to raise enough money to sponsor one of the two positions.

"Two instructors had a devil of a time handling instruction for all the students," Munns said. "One teacher for nine schools is going to be impossible. I think you'll really see teacher burnout."

But although board members applauded the efforts of the parents' group, they insisted the district could not afford to pay for two music instructors, even if only for a single semester.

Board members expressed regrets about the impact of the budget cuts on such popular programs, but said their top priority was keeping the district's educational operations intact.

"When you have a problem you solve it the best way possible, and the best way possible is to make these cuts," said school board President Kathleen Jones. "The decisions are tough, but this is a board that is able to make tough decisions. Yes, it will be hard, but the kids come first. I do believe the district is on the road to recovery."

Before announcing the recovery plan at its meeting Wednesday night, the board received a road map for the district's return to solvency in the form of a 73-page management review by Wilson Riles & Associates, a Sacramento-based consulting firm. The report pinpoints the reasons for the district's deficit and recommends 58 ways for the administration to cut costs and boost revenues.

Emergency Fund

When the financial problems came to light in May, the district appealed to the state Legislature for funds to enable it to stay open for the remainder of the school year and tide it over during the emergency.

The Legislature authorized a $3.9-million emergency fund, of which $2.6 million has been earmarked to make up the deficit for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

But before the district can get back in the black, it will require still more state assistance to cover an anticipated deficit in the coming fiscal year, the report stated.

"Even after all the cuts you folks have made, you're still ending up $700,000 short of a balanced budget," said consultant Mel Powell in his presentation to the board.

Trims Recommended

"The law requires that you submit a balanced budget, so you have to choose: Cut even deeper into your educational programs or seek more monies out of the $3.9 million authorized by Senate Bill 75."

The report calls on the district to reduce its expenditures during this fiscal year to $25.2 million, compared to last year's budget-busting $28.4 million. For next year, it recommends that the district trim its budget to $24.1 million so it can begin showing a surplus and repaying its state loan.

Among the management review's other findings:

Administrators should provide monthly budget reports to school board members to keep them abreast of the district's financial status.

The district should reduce the teaching and administrative payroll by encouraging early retirement and by not replacing employees lost through attrition.

Ratios of students to teachers and counselors should be increased to reflect those of other districts.

The district should not enter into multi-year contracts with teachers and other employees and should try to "honorably avoid" giving salary increases for which it is already committed.

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