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Newhall district cuts deep

Elementary schools face $1.5 million deficit, plunging enrollment; will increase class sizes

Posted: February 17, 2010 10:04 p.m.
Updated: February 18, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
Newhall School District has cut summer school and will increase class sizes as a way to help close a $1.5 million budget gap for next year.

The decision, made by Newhall district board members Tuesday night, comes after a parade of budget cuts over the past few years.

In recent years, Santa Clarita Valley school districts have eliminated school bus service, increased class sizes and laid off a mix of school employees, including custodians and aides.

Sulphur Springs School District said last week that it is considering raising class sizes to 30 students, which would mean about 40 fewer teachers.

Newhall leaders, along with many of the Santa Clarita Valley’s school districts, are bracing for more funding reductions.
Recent cuts

Tuesday’s cuts amounted to nearly $530,000, which gets the district slightly closer to filling its $1.5 million budget hole projected for next year. The year after could bring an additional $1.7 million in cuts, Superintendent Marc Winger said.

Class sizes in first and second grades will increase from 22 to 24 students, Winger said. The rise in class sizes will mean about four fewer teaching positions, Winger said.

At the same time, the 10-elementary school district with about 7,000 students expects to see a decrease in enrollment by about 126 students, primarily in the kindergarten grades, Winger said. It would be the biggest student enrollment dip they’ve seen.

“We are expecting a drop in the kindergarten class, which would mean we would need less teachers,” Winger said.

The district will still offer summer school for special education students.

However, it’s about 450 of the district’s lowest-achieving students who spent 20 days of the summer catching up to their peers.

Cutting summer school was no easy decision although it created the least impact on kids and schools, Winger said.

Winger said there is the possibility of schools like Wiley Canyon and McGrath elementary to fund summer school for their students through federal money, Winger said.

More cuts ahead

Even after Tuesday night’s decision about what to cut, district leaders still assembled a “Plan B” list of further cuts that might have to be considered in the coming months.

Those options include cutting the school’s popular music program, the counseling program and physical education.

“It’s nothing I want to do,” Winger said.

Before the district reaches that point, the district will begin negotiations with all of its unions to find out what employees can contribute, Winger said.

Despite the years of cuts, the tough decisions remain.

“Everything we do from here on out is going to affect kids, programs or people’s lives,” board President Mike Shapiro said.

School districts have to issue preliminary layoff notices to certificated staff by March 15. Final layoff notices come May 15, which stirs up emotions among the district.

“It’s so devastating,” Shapiro said. “I can’t tell you how hard it is to go through this. We’re not getting the money, so what do we do?”

Making it work
The funding reductions are already being felt at schools like Meadows Elementary School, which is part of the Newhall School District.

Principal Chad Rose said the school is working to prioritize the services and needs that put student learning first.

Teachers across all grade levels are working together to work with students who are behind.

Teachers are restricted on how many copies they can make. A $100 budget for teachers to buy additional materials has been cut.

The school relies heavily on its parent organization for volunteers and fundraising, he said.

“It’s going to become more and more difficult to cut out the little things without hitting the big things that hurt kids,” Rose said.

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