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School Boards Grapple With Budget-Cut Plans : Education: Some face hundreds of angry parents and students as they decide how to compensate for huge shortfalls in funds from the state.


School boards in several Orange County districts, sometimes facing hundreds of angry parents and students, grappled Tuesday with proposals for deep cuts in programs and staffing to meet multimillion-dollar budget deficits.

In the Placentia Unified School District, district administrators decided to forgo a 7% pay raise next year, making it possible for the district to save the jobs of as many as 24 assistant principals, counselors and teachers.

At a Saddleback Valley Unified School District board meeting, meanwhile, trustees were debating plans to eliminate academic decathlon teams and music and science programs in the elementary schools. An overflow crowd of about 300 was on hand, many carrying protest signs.

And in Irvine, where the Irvine Unified School District sports programs face the possibility of a 25% cut for next year, about 600 students and parents held a pep rally before the school board meeting Tuesday and made a 45-minute presentation to the board on the importance of school sports.

Those districts, like many others in the county, face huge budget deficits because of the state budget shortfall. Saddleback must cut $4.8 million from a $100-million budget. Placentia is looking at $9 million in cuts that may have to be made to the 1991-92 budget.

Placentia school officials have sent out final layoff notices to 158 teachers and administrators. The district also plans to eliminate 100 additional positions for maintenance workers, clerks, receptionists, bus drivers and instructional aides.

District officials expect to save about $650,000 by eliminating the raises, which will open up slots for 13 assistant principals and counselors. In addition, many of the assistant principals and counselors had been reassigned to teaching positions. Their being reinstated in their original positions will free up slots for as many as a dozen more teachers.

"It was our feeling that we would rather save positions than take a raise," Placentia Supt. James O. Fleming said about the decision.

Fleming added that if all district employees went without raises, "we could probably reinstate most of the programs and the teachers we had to cut."

The district eliminated 16 assistant principal and 26 counselor positions when final layoff notices were issued on May 15, and school officials and parents were worried about what some campuses, particularly high schools, would do without administrative support.

In a further effort to save money, Placentia school officials will offer one-time bonuses to employees who retire early. That would open up spots for newer employees who are starting at lower salaries. To be eligible to retire early, an employee must be older than 55 and have at least 15 years' service with the district, school officials said.

Gov. Pete Wilson's proposal to trim $2 million from the state education budget has forced most districts to propose significant cuts. The Placentia district has been hit especially hard, however, because of a contract approved in 1989 that guarantees teachers a 7% raise next year. District officials said they thought that state funding for education would be guaranteed at the time the contract was signed.

The school board has been having a series of public hearings and study sessions on the budget. Board members are expected to approve a budget by July 1.

In the Saddleback Valley district, board members were working late into the night Tuesday discussing a proposal to cut seven high school sports programs, a remedial reading program and the junior high and high school counseling programs. The sports programs being considered are boys' and girls' tennis, cross-country, water polo, wrestling and golf.

Jay Kim, a Laguna Hills High School senior and a student member on the school board, had criticism for state officials, whom he accused of ignoring student letters asking them not to cut the education budget.

"When we write letters in support of our armed forces, (state officials) think that's great," Jay said. "But when the letter criticizes them, they think that's wrong."

R. Kent Hahnn, school board president, said: "We don't raise money here. We only spend it. . . . We need the state to give us money so we don't have to make the cuts that are on the table." Hahnn said the district is being forced "to make unreasonable cuts." "But we are required by law to balance the budget. None of us are happy campers, as I'm sure none of you are."

Neal Morrison, a parent, said: "I don't know what's going on, but I haven't since Proposition 13 passed, because everyone lies to us. The lottery was supposed to help fund the school district, but then why doesn't the school district have any money?"

Among the Saddleback Valley cuts are salary reductions for the 82 teachers who have been told they will be laid off July 1 and the jobs of 55 non-teaching employees such as secretaries, cafeteria workers and custodians who were laid off in March.

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