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Santa Ana to cut 60 teaching positions, slash '07-08 budget

January 04, 2007|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

Facing declining enrollment, which means less money for Orange County's largest school district, Santa Ana Unified will eliminate 60 teaching positions and cut $15 million from its upcoming budget, according to the district.

Santa Ana has cut $58 million from its budgets since 2004.

"The last few years, we've hacked. The effort has always been to keep it out of the classroom," said district spokeswoman Susan Brandt. This year "we may wind up getting to things like the music and arts program. It's very, very difficult." Brandt said schools may need to close.

The 53,000-student district is facing the same problem that is decimating school district budgets across the state. About half the districts statewide and nearly three-quarters in Orange County have declining enrollment, and fewer students means fewer dollars, because state funding amounts are determined by enrollment and attendance. Urban districts such as Santa Ana have been hit harder in recent years, said Hilary McLean, spokeswoman for the California Department of Education.

"At the same time they are trying to strengthen and improve instruction ... they also are facing the double challenge of doing so in an environment with less resources as their student population decreases," she said.

Among the factors, rising housing costs are forcing families to seek more affordable homes elsewhere; the birthrate is declining; and fewer people are moving into Santa Ana, which has caused enrollment to fall by more than 1,600 students this year.

The district's enrollment has declined four of the last five years, while it has faced growing special education and health benefit expenses. A $29-million deficit in the 2004-05 budget was plugged by increasing class sizes, eliminating 420 jobs and persuading teachers and administrators to agree to a 4% pay cut for two years.

A committee studying the district's $453-million budget will present recommendations to the school board Tuesday on how to trim $15 million from the 2007-08 budget. The board is expected to decide which cuts to make by the end of February.

"It's getting more difficult because when you start trimming ... you use your bright ideas," said board member Audrey Yamagata-Noji.

David Barton, president of the Santa Ana Educators Assn., said he was hopeful that enough teachers would retire that no layoffs would be necessary. He said there was a backlog of teachers waiting to retire because retirement pay is determined in part by their final year's salary, which increased this year.

The district is negotiating its contract with its 2,400 teachers, and Yamagata-Noji said she was hopeful the union would keep the district's money problems in mind when they discuss health benefits. Currently, teachers pay about $45 per month for family health insurance, a figure that needs to be increased, she said.

"They have Cadillac benefits and we're proud of that, but we've got to look at that, we really do," she said.

"It's not losing benefits at all ... it's being realistic about what the district pays and what the employee pays for that coverage."

Barton said benefit cuts are unnecessary.

"From our point of view, there are adequate resources for the district to maintain benefits pretty much as they are," he said

Yamagata-Noji added that as a large urban district serving low-income students, Santa Ana Unified has special responsibilities that are not reimbursed by the state but are vital to its population, such as security and intramural sports for middle school students.

"There are some things that we choose not to get rid of," Yamagata-Noji said.

"For example the state doesn't truly fund you for arts and music but we need to support those programs in our district. It's not just teachers, it's instruments and materials -- you can't have a music program in Santa Ana and expect the kids to come with their own instruments."

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