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Alhambra Schools' Music, Art Programs Get Reprieve


ALHAMBRA — Elementary music and art programs have been restored in the Alhambra City School District a week after they were eliminated, the district announced Wednesday.

The board also reinstated 27 custodians and clerical workers and resurrected the health benefits of 13 health aides during a closed-door meeting Tuesday night.

The board had voted to make the cuts to cure a $600,000 midyear budget deficit.

The change of heart came after a week of protests after the election night board meeting. Parents have been objecting to the end of the music and art training. Union officials wanted a greater role in deciding how the district would solve the budget crisis.

For now, all parties have what they want. On Wednesday, union negotiators and school officials met for the first time to discuss the continuing budget problem.

The staff and program reprieves could prove temporary, Supt. Bruce H. Peppin said. District officials hope to make a final decision on budget cuts at the Jan. 22 board meeting.

"The position of the board is to keep program cuts as far away from the classroom as possible," Peppin said. "No one is doing an unimportant job. But we have to be fiscally responsible as well."

The district has been tackling a budget crisis since June, and has so far sliced about $1.8 million from a total budget of $100 million.

At the heart of the midyear deficit is an overestimate of revenue, particularly state lottery money. Alhambra budgeted $177 per student in lottery money, but lower-than-expected lottery sales will give the district $155 per student, at most. The difference will cost Alhambra schools $450,000, Associate Supt. Richard A. Keilhacker said. The district also lost $150,000 from state budget cuts.

The optimistic lottery forecast is in contrast to several other San Gabriel Valley school districts, which budgeted $160 per student. Even more conservative was the West Covina Unified School District, which is recovering from bankruptcy three years ago. That district only budgets lottery money it has already received.

Alhambra school board member Dora Padilla blamed part of the schools' long-term budget woes on the size of teacher pay raises. "We shouldn't have given as large a salary increase to teachers as we have been giving the last three or four years," she said.

The budget crunch could get worse before it gets better. State officials have told schools that lottery proceeds could go as low as $115 per student. That would force $800,000 more in cuts in Alhambra, Keilhacker said. In addition, the county is now requiring school districts to pay property taxes, which districts are challenging in court. At stake is $500,000 for Alhambra schools alone.

In the worst-case scenario, transportation and sports programs could be cut, as well as music and art, Alhambra officials said.

In the meantime, students get back their trombones and violins, and four music teachers and two art teachers will continue in their duties. They would have been reassigned to regular classroom teaching.

The reprieve will allow the continuation of twice-a-week music lessons and band classes for students in grades five through eight. Also restored are seventh- and eighth-grade art classes and periodic art instruction in the lower grades.

As in other districts, such enrichment programs are already stretched thin. The four-person music staff instructs more than 900 students, its largest number ever, music teacher Barbara Reed said. She said she hopes any needed cutbacks can be spread among departments, so that music isn't eliminated entirely.

Parent Marlene Magallanes said that retaining music and art should be a high priority. All five of her children, ages 10 to 18, have been involved in the district's music program. She said she could not have afforded private lessons.

Her oldest son, a trombone player, is now pursuing a music minor at Pasadena Community College and will be marching with a band in this year's Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, she said.

"If Danny hadn't had music in his life to challenge him in that direction, to keep him straight, I feel he would have turned in the wrong direction, to gangs or drugs," Magallanes said. "Music has helped keep my kids clean."

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