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Educators lay out the cuts

Members of three districts give details on how big of a hit locals schools will take

Posted: June 27, 2009 8:43 p.m.
Updated: June 28, 2009 4:30 a.m.

The outlook for public schools in California is definitely a gloomy one, teachers and others agreed last week during an update on education in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“Our schools cannot continue to take more than 60 percent of the state budget cuts,” said Joan Oxman, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Teachers Association. “That is a serious, serious problem.”

Oxman was joined by four other local educators from the William S. Hart Union High School District, College of the Canyons and Newhall School District who spoke to a crowd of 20 Democrats during a Democratic Alliance for Action panel discussion Thursday night about the cuts local school districts have made.

“We’re doing all that we can do to make sure the education for our students is not affected,” said Carole Magnuson, president of the Newhall Teachers Association.

A retirement-incentive program prevented the layoffs of any Newhall teachers for the upcoming school year, she said.

“We don’t know how long that will last,” Magnuson said. “We’re just taking it year by year.”

Newhall School District laid off about 15 classified employees, which included classroom aides, she said.

The Newhall association approved two furlough days for next year, but they are not yet needed, Magnuson said.

The panel discussion came as local K-12 school districts and College of the Canyons adopted 2009-10 fiscal-year budgets packed with reductions.

The state Legislature appears deadlocked on a new spending plan in the face of a $24 billion deficit, which has forced deep cuts in education and other services.

While there were no teacher layoffs at the Hart district, about 70 teaching positions were eliminated, said Leslie Littman, president of the Hart District Teachers Association.

“Ten percent of our teaching force was eliminated this year,” she said.

The district is also proposing to increase class sizes by one to two students, allowing 39 students in the high school classes and 38 students in junior high classes, Littman said.

Throughout the discussion, the panelists talked about the dip in education funding received over the years.

“For many, many years, we have gotten less funds for students than any other (school) districts in the state,” Oxman said.

The Saugus Union School District is the lowest-paid school district in California, she said.

“At the same time, (California is) 47th in the nation for school funding,” Oxman said. “That pretty much puts us at the bottom of the bottom.”

Despite the low funding, Santa Clarita Valley boasts a high number of distinguished and Blue Ribbon schools, and school districts often rate highly on test scores, she said.

In addition to funding concerns, the Santa Clarita Valley is home to a significant number of special-needs students, she said. In many cases, families will move to the Santa Clarita Valley because of the strong reputation local school districts have for working with special-needs students, Oxman said.

But funding for those programs is not sufficient, she said.

“We have another problem in that we are not fully funded for our special needs students,” Oxman said.

Saugus Union eliminated bus transportation for students in the upcoming school year, Oxman said.

While College of the Canyons is funded differently than K-12 education, board member Bruce Fortine noted the roughly $8 million budget reduction the community college made for the upcoming fiscal year.

Last year, the college served 1,500 more full-time students than it was paid for by the state.

“We can’t do that anymore,” Fortine said. “That came out of our general fund.”

With 20 percent of summer-session sections cut this year, Fortine anticipates that class offerings in the fall, winter and spring sessions will be reduced, as well.

That could mean about 100 part-time faculty will lose their jobs, he said.

Across the state, an estimated 15,000 credentialed teachers have been laid off, Littman said.

As unemployed educators look for other jobs in the meantime, Oxman said she predicts that in five to 10 years, a shortage of teachers will emerge.

“Teaching is not the safe career choice that it used to be,” she said.



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