Irvine school officials debated into the night Tuesday over whether to make $5 million in budget cuts that would eliminate some art, music and science programs and mean layoffs for 100 teachers.
"I feel sick. What else can you be?" Michael B. Regele, an Irvine Unified School District trustee, said before the marathon session, which included public comment and staff recommendations to eliminate art, science and music programs; reduce clerical, library, medical and coaching staffs; and increase class sizes.
"I feel really badly for children who are just entering school. If we really have to do what we're planning . . . they will not have the same educational experience that my children got," Regele said.
At least 300 people packed the board room, spilling out into hallways, sitting on the floor and standing on sidewalks. Many of them were teachers who had picketed earlier in the day to draw public attention to their plight.
Budget cuts might yet be averted if two-thirds of the city's voters approve a flat $95 parcel tax on the April 11 ballot. But preliminary layoff notices must go out to staff members before then.
"The cuts have to be pretty broad and sweeping," Trustee Karen Preston said. "Our hands are tied. We don't have any legal room anymore."
The district, which has an annual budget of about $140 million, has trimmed $12 million in administrative costs over the past decade. But the shortfall projected for the 2000-01 school year is forcing deeper cuts.
Trustee Steven S. Choi proposed a smaller budget cut of $4 million--the amount of the projected budget shortfall for next year. He said he would rather gamble on finding enough revenue than lose more teachers than necessary.
Many will immediately start looking for jobs elsewhere, he said. "If I was a music teacher, I would be very uncomfortable if I got a pink slip."
Board members told the audience at the sometimes tense session that, although they are determined to push ahead with the cuts, they hope to find solutions to keep offering the most popular classes.
School board President Jeanne Flint said, "If we had . . . some options to restructure things, this whole process could be more constructive."