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Sorry State of Public School System Is a Case for Private Schools Initiative

February 23, 1992

Re Huntington Beach Union High School District cutbacks: In November, California voters will have an opportunity to vote for a voucher system that would allow them to send their children to a private school with some (or all) of the expense picked up by the state.

Oddly enough, the most persuasive argument for the voucher system is being provided by Huntington Beach Union High School District Supt. David Hagen.

This comes in the form of the proposed cuts in personnel and services to address a $3.1-million budgetary shortfall.

The school district has been cutting back for a number of years due to declining enrollment. Most of the cuts were to teachers, classified staff and programs. However, the area least affected was management. This rendered the school district decidedly top-heavy with administrators.

During this period of decline, input was solicited from a variety of "blue ribbon" committees. The recurring call to close a school was ignored repeatedly. In preference to a school closing, Hagen hatched a plan to lease school district land to a developer in exchange for the developer's building a new district office and much-needed cash for the district, thus avoiding the political land mine of closing a school.

However, the plan conceived in the development go-go years of the '80s was destined to miscarry in the recession-minded '90s. Although approved in the mid-'80s by the Planning Commission, changes in the Planning Commission combined with concerns (about) traffic congestion, sewage and the number of current vacancies in the area scuttled the plan.

Combining this setback with cuts in funding on the state level sets the stage for the cuts in '92. Hagen presented these cuts to the school board and the public Feb. 11. His proposed cuts reveal his inability to get beyond the paradigm of cutting as far from management as possible and provide the strongest argument for vouchers yet.

Most of the cuts come to teachers and classified staff, including cuts of nurses, librarians and personnel directly involved in classroom support.

In the face of this wholesale gutting of school services, only one district office administrative position was cut. Only one!

The timing is flawless.

If these cuts are implemented, the public will have from the opening of school in September to mid-November to realize that school district management decided (and the school board agreed) to put the students last in the equation to balance the bottom line. What better argument for vouchers.

MARK A. SODEN JR., Long Beach. Mark Soden is an employee of the Huntington Beach Union High School District.

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