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Districts face less money, more students

Schools are cutting budgets with the expectation that things could get worse

Posted: June 15, 2009 10:46 p.m.
Updated: June 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Newhall and Saugus Union School District board members will face the possibilities of increased class sizes and funding reductions tonight as both districts decide on 2009-10 adopted budgets.

Saugus Union took a $2.1 million cut for the current fiscal year and planned a 2009-10 budget with a $3.3 million reduction, Superintendent Judy Fish said.

"Trying to have a balanced budget out three years when you're taking last-minute reductions, it's very difficult," Fish said.

To meet the reduction, Saugus Union's Kindergarten through third-grade classes will range in size from 20 to 23 students, Fish said.

All K-3 classes at the district now are at 20 students each.

Saugus Union, which has a general fund of about $60 million, does not have plans to initiate furlough days for district employees, Fish said.

"We've emptied out any account that we can," Fish said. "We're looking at using money in as flexible a manner as possible."

The district has already dipped into its capital improvements reserve and its retirement fund, Fish said.

The district hopes to use its $2.6 million in stabilization funding from the federal stimulus to offset budget reductions for the 2009-10 fiscal year, Fish said. The money was restricted for this year's budget, Fish said.

Newhall's 2009-10 adopted budget, which amounts to about $57 million before proposed reductions, reflects class-size increases in primary grades, shifting funding for specific categories to the general fund and a reduction of school-site budgets by 20 percent, Superintendent Marc Winger said.

Part of the plan also allows for two furlough days - these are days that district employees take off without pay - for all Newhall School District employees, Winger said.

The days, one in August and another in October, are already student-free days.

The two days would save the district an estimated $400,000, Winger said.

Despite the reductions, Newhall School District plans to preserve its music, counseling and visual-arts programs.

"What we've tried to do is balance our cuts so those programs didn't have to be reduced," Winger said.

The state has given school districts flexibility with categorical funding, money that is set aside for certain programs.

"We hope it won't impact students very much," Winger said.

For example, one type of funding, known as deferred maintenance, is used for facilities upkeep and includes maintenance items such as roofing and carpeting.

Part of the funding will be moved to the general fund to offset the reduction.

"We're lucky to be able to do that," Winger said. "Our school sites are in pretty good shape."

Much like other school districts, Newhall is waiting on a state budget to determine how much education funding will be lost.

"Given all the news, we know the state budget is going to change again," Winger said.

While nothing is finalized at the state level, Winger anticipates another $2 million cut to the Newhall School District's budget, which will most likely come in the form of mid-year cuts.

That would mean a $4.3 million reduction in funding over the last two fiscal years, Winger said.

Those figures remain estimates until a state budget is prepared.

"The main thing that's driving us all crazy is the uncertainty," Winger said.

Until a state budget is approved that addresses the state's $24 billion deficit, the districts continue to wait.

"At the end of the day, will we have to maintain all those cuts? Probably. And it could be worse," Fish said.


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