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$24-Million Budget Cutback OKd for Santa Ana Schools

Three-year reduction will result in larger class sizes and the elimination of up to 500 teachers. State's fiscal woes, lower attendance are blamed.

October 30, 2003|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

Trustees of the Santa Ana Unified School District have cut $24 million from their three-year spending plan, in part by increasing class sizes and eliminating positions across the board, from administrators to custodians.

Nearly 500 of the district's 3,000 teaching positions may be eliminated, officials said.

The budget paring comes as a team of state auditors reviews the district's finances at the request of the Orange County Department of Education.

Teachers, trustees and administrators said the budget cutbacks, adopted late Tuesday, were a setback for a district that had prided itself on the 20-to-1 student-teacher ratio in its kindergarten-through-third grade classes and innovation in the face of an arduous task of teaching English to many immigrants.

About two-thirds of the district's 63,000 students are English learners.

Supt. Al Mijares said the spending cuts were forced by the state budget crisis and the leveling off of student enrollment in the district, which receives most of its revenue based on student population.

This year, Mijares transferred $15.5 million from the district's construction budget to balance its $525-million operating budget. He has vowed to repay the construction budget by 2005.

District officials had planned last week to cut $29.8 million over the next three years, but said Tuesday that $5 million in cuts were unnecessary, because of less-costly arrangements for special education and lower legal fees and other expenses.

The smaller cut, "is a little better, but when you add on the $15 million that was borrowed, we are back where we started. It's almost like we take a step forward and we take a step back," said school board member Sal Tinajero. "It is such a shame. Our students, who come from one of the most needy communities, have so many issues."

The cuts, which will take effect in July, include 19 assistant principals, 34 specialized teachers who might be transferred to other areas, 18 health aides, four library aides and as many as 60 office assistants. The personnel cuts will save the district $8.59 million.

In addition, the district will increase the size of many classes by about one student to save $4.8 million, by reducing 85 teachers in grades 4 through 12.

The district hopes teachers will agree, through contract negotiations, to two unpaid leave days, caps on health insurance, play yard supervision duties during recess and giving up the use of substitutes for three days during the school year, which frees teachers to tend to administrative paperwork.

If teachers don't agree to the concessions, district officials say they will eliminate about 400 teachers in kindergarten through third grade by increasing class sizes above the current 20-to-1 ratio. The move would save the district about $5 million, after factoring in the loss of state funds the district receives for maintaining smaller class sizes.

Cutbacks in campus security will save the district about $1.4 million, and an additional $1.9 million will be saved by eliminating 38 of the district's 221 custodial workers, said Donald Stabler, the district's director of business services.

The only trustee voting against the budget cuts was John Palacio, who said he was opposed to the increase in class sizes.

Several teachers and parents attended the meeting to protest the cuts and class-size increases.

"Put my students in a classroom of 30 and they will not be provided the same attention," said Walker Elementary School teacher Caroline Espinosa. "They will not have a foundation that is well set, and [their needs] will not be addressed due to the mere number of students in class."

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