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$459 Million in Cuts Are Considered for Fiscally Strapped L.A. Schools

April 26, 2002|DUKE HELFAND and ERIKA HAYASAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Teachers are trying to avert closure of the Bellagio Road Newcomer School in Bel-Air, which serves 390 immigrant children from El Salvador, Guatemala, Korea, China, Armenia, Russia and elsewhere. The students, in third through eighth grades, would be enrolled at general schools throughout the district under the budget axing.

"We're going to see many kids maybe even drop out, because it's very difficult when you come here brand new," said Barbara Ellis, a teacher at the school. "We have a very clear understanding of what those children need and how to help them."

The district's budget crisis is the most serious in a decade, officials said. In 1992, the district had to slash $400 million from a $3.8-billion budget. It did so partly by cutting employee salaries.

Romer on Thursday accused board members of "micro-managing" the budget and urged his bosses to make difficult if unpopular decisions. "We have a budget ... in this district that is going to be very painful," he said.

Several school board members objected to Romer's plan to do away with four early childhood centers for a savings of $1 million. Among those is the Berkeley Avenue Children's Center in Echo Park, attended by 39 students, ages 2 to 5.

Parents and staffers said students will not get the attention they receive at Berkeley if they are transferred to larger schools.

"They need to get their priorities straight," said teacher Valerie DeLong. "If they want a student to do well in elementary school, they've got to invest the money in early childhood education."

Marcela Lucero recalled that a teacher noticed how her 5-year-old son had trouble cutting with scissors because he is left-handed.

The teacher was able to buy left-handed scissors for him to practice cutting.

"If he was at a bigger center, I don't know ... if they would have noticed that."

Berkeley has two teachers, a principal and eight staff members who may be transferred elsewhere. "It's sad because I get so attached to the children and their parents," said Principal Thelma Cruz.

"We've seen the children when they came and couldn't speak a word of English," Cruz said. "Now they sing and dance."

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