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EDUCATION : Budget Woes May Force Workman High to Close : District officials cite dwindling resources and declining enrollment. Students, parents and teachers are preparing to fight decision.

October 20, 1994|TALLY GOLDSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For the fourth time since 1980, the Hacienda-La Puente Unified School District is finding itself forced to close yet another school because of declining enrollment.

Officials have not decided which school to close, but teachers and students from Workman--the district's smallest high school--are prepared to fight a decision they are certain will target them.

"There have been rumors for many years that they were going to close our school," said Joan Lavey, a Workman history teacher. "But this is the first time it's a real threat."

Blaming a poor economy and a loss of 11,000 students in the district since 1971, Assistant Supt. John Rieckewald said, "We're in a constant state of having no resources."

The district cut $7 million in expenditures in the last two years, eliminating librarian, counselor and assistant principal positions, as well as stripping health services "down to the bare bones," Rieckewald said.

"We've cut everything we can cut," he said. "The reality is that it didn't give us flexibility or surplus. It just kept us from running into the reserves."

Integrating Workman's 1,145 students into the district's three other high schools could save the district up to $700,000, but parents and students are concerned the decision will lead to overpopulated classrooms and increased gang violence.

"No one is going to get any schooling done," said Heidi Lopez, a recent graduate of Workman who attended a Save Our School meeting last week along with hundreds of parents, students and teachers.

Lopez is worried about her twin sisters, who are freshmen at Workman but would attend La Puente High School if Workman is closed.

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"There are gangs that hang out at both schools," she said. "If Workman kids go to La Puente, there's going to be more violence."

Because almost half of Workman students are from La Puente, it is widely assumed that many of those Workman students will transfer to La Puente High School, which has 1,638 students.

"As it is, La Puente is overcrowded," lamented Diana Marquez, who has three young children. "As soon as I rise in income, I'm taking my kids out of this district."

Rieckewald said that even if every Workman student transferred to La Puente High School, there would still be 77 fewer students than the school had in 1981. "I'm not saying they'd all go to La Puente, but I am saying it would be a manageable number if they did," he said.

District officials also are considering the integration of elementary schools with junior high schools or junior high schools with high schools. The district can save $250,000 for each elementary school closed and up to $550,000 for each junior high school closed.

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Administrators will make their recommendation to the Board of Education in early December so that they can close the school or schools before next year.

Rieckewald said, "There's nothing etched in stone that it has to be Workman," but students and teachers are skeptical.

"The students feel they're being robbed of what's theirs," said Workman senior Xochitl BautistaC in a speech to cheering supporters. "And we're not willing to give it up."

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