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School bells ring this week

As children return to school, educators prepare to deal with uncertain budgets

Posted: August 12, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 12, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Dominick Sanchez, 5, left, gets a backpack from Krystal Reyes, director of Bringing Learning And Service Together at the Back to School Festival at the Newhall Community Center on Saturday.

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School bells ring across the Santa Clarita Valley again this week; Castaic Union School District students return to classes Monday, and all other K-12 public-school students are back behind desks by Thursday.

It’s a school year that begins under a cloud of financial uncertainty as taxpayers will be asked to shell out more money for public education.

It’ll be a year that encompasses a new transitional kindergarten plan, one in which another local district asks voters to approve a school bond, and one in which educators embrace solar power to defray some of their operating costs.

Two tax-increase measures are on the California November ballot that supporters say would boost spending on public education. But experts say multiple ballot measures dealing with the same issue tend to confuse voters, who often turn thumbs-down on all of them.

Local educators say if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative fails, the result will be more cuts for schools.

Schools would face state-revenue cuts totaling roughly $1,500 per student over the next three years, said Robert Nolet, superintendent of Sulphur Springs School District.

In the Hart district for example, the measure’s failure would equate to roughly $34.5 million in cuts for its nearly 23,000 students.

“You’re talking about some pretty serious consequences” for schools that have seen cuts for five years in a row, said Marc Winger, superintendent of the Newhall School District.

The five-year financial drought sent the William S. Hart Union High School to investigate and sign up with a solar-power-generation firm that installed solar panels on many of its campuses.

Now district officials with Saugus Union, Castaic Union, Sulphur Springs and Newhall school districts are in various stages of following the solar-panel model pioneered by Hart.

The savings from going solar could come out to more than $20 million over the next two decades for the high school district, according to officials.

It’s certainly a figure Sulphur Springs officials are interested in. Despite the ongoing effects of the recession, they won voter approval last June for $72 million in bonds.

Voters in the Castaic Union School District will be asked to approve a school bond measure on the same ballot with the two tax-increase measures. Known as Quality Schools for Castaic, the measure would raise $51 million for school upgrades and construction.

William S. Hart Union High School District

Superintendent: Robert Challinor

Biggest challenges facing the district:

“Two challenges facing the district are budget and replacing a group of employees and administrators that are nearing retirement to ensure the culture and the quality continues.”



Things the district is excited about:

“Some of the projects and programs we are excited about are the modernization projects that include building auditoriums at Canyon High School and Saugus High School, completing the field renovation at Placerita Junior High School and adding a two story classroom building to Sierra Vista Junior High School and Placerita Junior High School.”

Teacher-to-student ratios

Seventh and eighth grade: 38-to-1

Ninth through 12th grade: 39-to-1

Enrollment

2011-12: 22,727

2012-13: 22,811

State revenue

2011-12: $180 million

2012-13: $181 million



Fiber-optic networks are in the plans for the Newhall School District. Newhall voters OK’d $60 million in bonds for their district last November.

Other changes this year include the implementation of transitional kindergarten, or TK, a new two-year instructional program.

A transitional kindergarten is the first year of a two-year kindergarten program, according to the California Department of Education. The state has pushed back the age that students may start kindergarten to a month earlier, according to a 2010 state law.

This means the students will be slightly older, but there will be a choice of two age groups, which will offer a hybrid between traditional preschool and kindergarten educations.

“The curriculum will offer a combination of the preschool education, which is more of a socialization learning, and kindergarten, which has become a more academic environment,” Winger said.

Castaic will offer the program’s first test when it opens its doors Monday.

 

Saugus Union
School District

Superintendent: Joan Lucid

Biggest challenges facing the district:

“The budget really is the largest challenge. We’ve had to reduce resources all the way across the board, and we’ve increased our class sizes in our primary grades, which we do with great reticence.”



Things the district is excited about:

“We’re also going to be looking  at ‘brain-based’ direct instruction. We’ve been working with our teachers on instructional delivery models and looking at how we get kids to get it the first time. We’ve had tremendous success with our walkthroughs with our teachers.”

Teacher-to-student ratios

30-to-1

Enrollment

2011-12: 10,296

2012-23: 10,040

(projected)

State revenue

2011-12: $77.8 million

2012-13: $72.8 million

 

Newhall School District

Superintendent: Marc Winger

Biggest challenges facing the district:

“In spite of the chaos of our state’s budget, and the uncertainty that kind of swirls around it, I just know my staff is ready to deliver a high quality education and high quality achievement.”



Things the district is excited about:

“Things we’re looking forward to are projects that we can get done under our (Measure E) money, such as energy, technology and construction plans for facilities districtwide.”

Teacher-to-student ratios

Kindergarten varies between 24-to-1 and 30-to-1

First through third grades: 24-to-1

Fourth, fifth and sixth grades: 30-to-1  

Enrollment

2011-12: 6,931

2012-13: 6,824

State revenue

2011-12: $52.1 million

2012-13: $52.3 million

 

Sulphur Springs School District

Superintendent: Robert Nolet

Biggest challenges facing the district:

“Each year that we’re in this situation, I think we actually need to celebrate the fact that despite all of the challenges, we continue to offer an exceptional quality of education to students.”



Things the district is excited about:

“Obviously, we are delighted that we will have some resources because of the generosity of our Canyon Country voters (who approved a bond measure in June), and we’re excited about a number of staff who have joined us this year.”

Teacher-to-student ratios

Kindergarten, first grade: 22-to-1

Second and third grade: 28-to-1

Fourth - sixth grade: 30-to-1

Enrollment

2011-12: 5,654

2012-13: 5,590

State revenue

2011-12: 47 million

2012-13: 45.5 million

 

Castaic Union School District

Superintendent: James Gibson

Biggest challenges facing the district:

“For everybody, the answer is going to be the budget. This coming year, we’re fine, but the following year would be disastrous (if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax-hike plan fails) — and not just for us, for schools all over California.”



Things the district is excited about:

“We’ll have transitional kindergarten this year, so we’re going to start having a two-year program, that’s a new project for us instructionally.”

Teacher-to-student ratios

Kindergarten to 3rd grade:
20-to-1

4th and 5th grade: 30-to-1

6th, 7th and 8th grade: 32-to-1

Enrollment

2011-12: 2,934

2012-13: 2,875

State revenue

2011-12: $20.6 million

2012-13: $20.7 million

 

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