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School Board OKs Budget Calling for Teacher Layoffs

May 18, 1989|JAMES M. GOMEZ | Times Staff Writer

WHITTIER — The Whittier Union High School District Board of Education has approved a controversial $1.4-million package of budget cuts that includes staff layoffs for the next school year.

In a special meeting Monday night, the board approved a plan to balance the district's preliminary $41-million budget for fiscal year 1989-90 by reducing the number of counseling, clerical and teaching positions.

The board also decided to eliminate bus service next September for students who live less than three miles from school. The current cutoff is 2 1/2 miles. The new plan would affect 280 Whittier-area high school students.

The plan was approved despite protests of parents, staff and students, who opposed cutting teachers and a popular counseling program. The board was scheduled to vote two weeks ago, but put off the decision until this week to study the cuts, which were proposed by Supt. Lee Eastwood.

"We are not . . . filled with joy about making any cuts whatsoever," board President Joan Nay told the 150 people who crowded into the board chambers Monday night. "This is the hardest thing the board has to do."

Second Year of Cutbacks

School officials recommended the cutbacks because of projections that revenue for next school year will fall short of spending, Eastwood said this week. The board must enact a balanced budget by July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.

It is the second consecutive year of major budget cutbacks for the district, which serves Whittier and Santa Fe Springs. Last year, school officials trimmed $1.9 million from the district budget.

Revenues have remained steady for three years while expenditures have increased, threatening the district's $2.4-million reserve.

Eastwood attributed the financial problems to declining enrollment, an unexpected 32% increase in the cost of the district's medical plan for employees, the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake and a state administrative error last year that deprived the five-school district of $190,000 in state funds. Attendance determines the amount of state money received.

"All these little pieces add up," Eastwood said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

The school district was forced to invest $1.3 million in repairs after the earthquake, Eastwood said, and the state Department of Education has yet to fully reimburse the district. "We've only got 65 cents on the dollar so far," he said.

Possible Library Cuts

After discovering the fiscal shortfall earlier this year, school officials initially suggested that, among other things, all but one librarian position be eliminated. The transportation cutbacks were also recommended in the first plan.

But after parents protested, the board opted for districtwide cutbacks instead of heavy reductions in the library system.

"Don't take our counselors away," Pioneer High School senior Steve Adiani said in an impassioned speech to the board. "We need these people more than any other administrator on campus."

Before Monday's special meeting, board members said that they had received more than 40 letters from parents and other residents concerned about staff cuts. Some of the letters were signed by as many as 100 parents. The board members also received numerous telephone calls urging them not to cut teachers.

Under the approved plan, the district will eliminate 1.5 administrative positions, eight full-time and five part-time clerical positions, 7.5 teaching positions and one career education coordinator by the end of the school year, Eastwood said. Cutbacks in supplies and equipment were also approved in the new spending plan.

Eastwood said that declining enrollment has had the greatest effect on the school district's finances. "We have a lot of empty nesters (in Whittier)," he said. "The kids have all grown up and left."

Fifteen years ago, enrollment was at 14,000 students, Eastwood said. But that figure has declined steadily over the years. This year, 8,070 high school students attend district schools, and the drop is expected to continue. The largest enrollment drop, 500 students, occurred last year.

He added that school officials predict enrollment to bottom out in the next few years and begin to rise by 1996, when students from the district's five elementary-school "feeder" districts reach high-school age.

When asked whether further cuts may be necessary in the future to offset declining revenue, Eastwood said: "Given the financial condition, it is absolutely possible to predict more of the same."

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