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Castaic making the grade

Up to 30 positions could be eliminated in an effort to shave $2 million from 2009-10 budget

Posted: February 15, 2009 1:06 a.m.
Updated: February 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
The Castaic Union School District faces a $2 million slice to the 2009-10 budget, and the option of laying off 30 full-time employees doesn't sit well with school officials.

"We have to keep people to make education work," district superintendent James Gibson said.

District board members consider keeping as many positions as possible an important goal.

"We don't want to lose people," board president John Kunak said.

The proposed would save the district an estimated $1.68 million towards the $2 million goal - a 9 percent budget reduction.

The Castaic Teachers Association, which represents 190 teachers, meets regularly with district officials, parents and the Castaic community to discuss the effects of the tardy state budget.

"We're in a wait-and-see mode until the state comes up with a budget. Then we can make decisions," association president Suzanne Graff said.

Any decisions about where to cut the Castaic budget have yet to be made.

"We have to wait and see what the budget is before we can do anything," Kunak said.

The federal economic stimulus package could contribute $675,000 to the Castaic district and potentially offset budget cuts, Gibson said.

The district is unsure of whether the money, if any, would trickle to its four schools.

After much deliberation, the House passed a $787 billion economic stimulus bill which President Barack Obama plans to sign Tuesday.

The stimulus sets up a $54 billion fund to help prevent or restore state budget cuts, of which $39 billion must go toward kindergarten through 12th grade and higher education. In addition, about $8 billion of the fund could be used for other priorities, including modernization and renovation of schools and colleges, though how much is unclear, because Congress decided not to specify a dollar figure.

It also adds $25 billion extra to No Child Left Behind and special education programs, which help pay teacher salaries, among other things.

District officials hope finding a way to save $2 million for the 2009-10 fiscal year would prepare the district for the 2010-11 year.

The district does not anticipate making any cuts to the 2008-09 budget.

"Overall, I think we've been very conservative over the last 10 years in just being fiscally conservative," Gibson said.

In the last three years, the district has been cautious in spending extra funding from the state, he said.

Much like other Santa Clarita Valley school districts, Castaic officials support Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's flexibility proposal, which makes way for increased class sizes and minimizes potential layoffs.

Class size reductions would save the district $118,442, Gibson said.

The district would also like to receive more spending flexibility but cuts could mean stricter spending for programs like special education.

"We do need to pay closer attention to how we are forced to expend money under unfunded mandates that take away from the entire population of the district," Kunak said.

Before the economic slowdown, the district had plans to build three to five new schools in new development areas.

Enrollment districtwide is 3,309 students with a projected enrollment at 3,250 for the 2009-10 school year, Gibson said.

SunCal's NorthLake development, expected to bring 3,800 homes, would have included a middle school and possibly an elementary school, Gibson said.

The Newhall Ranch development planned by The Newhall Land and Farming Co. includes an elementary school, Gibson said.

The district also had plans for schools in Sloan Canyon and the Val Verde area, Gibson said.

All the projects are on hold.

"Two years ago, we were talking huge growth, now we're in a decline," Gibson said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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