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As Schools Keep Cutting, Students May Pay the Price : Education: Many districts continue to slash costs, bringing increased class sizes and fewer extracurricular activities.


THE REGION — Young athletes in the South Pasadena Unified School District might have to pay as much as $113 a year to play school sports starting this fall.

Music students at Hacienda La Puente Unified might have to make do without their instruments for a time if they break down, because the repair budget is being cut.

First-graders entering Duarte Unified will get less individual attention from teachers, as class size swells from 25 to 29 students.

From art to zoology, from guidance counselors to campus security, this year's school district budgets continue to chip away at the quality and variety of educational programs offered throughout the San Gabriel Valley.

Most of the districts in the region reported some kind of cuts in either supplemental programs or teaching and clerical staff for the 1993-94 school year.

Districts lucky enough to escape the ax this year said they took their hits in the last three years and are now operating with a lower overhead. Some have gouged as much as $6.6 million out of their budgets since 1990.

Attrition accounted for most of the school positions eliminated. But several districts also laid off staff, including Duarte, Hacienda La Puente and Mountain View.

In general, this year's school district budgets, cobbled together amid the third year of dire financial news from the state, contained less severe cuts than in the past two years.

Many districts sharply curtailed or eliminated their art, music and some sports programs in years past. In today's economic climate, these activities have become frills that financially strapped school districts simply cannot afford.

"We still maintain a sports program but we cut elementary art and music years ago, literally after Proposition 13," said Harold Day, business manager of Bassett Unified. "We're cutting into regular programs now."

Some districts, including Garvey and San Marino, dipped into financial reserves to break even rather than make additional cuts. The state requires districts to keep a minimum 3% financial reserve in case of emergencies, but some fiscally conservative administrators had squirreled away larger amounts over the years and are now using that money.

Several local school districts have also cut back top administrative positions or left them open. Azusa won't fill a vacant position for associate superintendent of instruction, which will save more than $100,000 annually. Mountain View Unified reassigned one of its assistant superintendents to the classroom.

Rosemead eliminated its director of maintenance and operations, saving $50,000 annually, and Supt. Robert D. Hansen agreed to take a $2,500 pay cut this year, reducing his salary to $83,264.

"The superintendent's view is that if we're going to make cuts, we're going to start at the top," said Steven Cary, Rosemead's assistant superintendent for business services. "He wants to send the message out, so that if we have to lay off someone lower down, we've done our share."

Districts that avoided cuts this year included Alhambra, Arcadia, Charter Oak, Covina-Valley, El Monte City, Garvey, Glendora, San Gabriel and Walnut. Most attributed this to good management, fiscal planning and belt-tightening since 1990.

But even those districts that cut cherished programs still explored alternate sources of funding to minimize the impact on students.

In South Pasadena, Eva Lueck, the assistant superintendent of business services, said district officials would meet with the Booster Club to see if that civic organization could defray the costs of participating in athletics. Lueck said the district probably would offer some scholarships to students who wanted to play sports but who couldn't afford the sign-up fees.

"Philosophically, we don't believe there should be a charge, especially since for some kids, that is their one outlet; that's what keeps them in school," Lueck said.

In Duarte Unified, where positions have been left unfilled and departments have been reorganized, officials assessed this year's budget cuts grimly:

"Teachers will be serving more kids in the classroom than they have in the past," said Sherryl Morris, Duarte's business manager. "We've done everything we can to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. It is getting harder and harder each year."

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