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FUHSD board approves budget cuts - O'Connor calls for personal sacrifices to save programs

The Fallbrook Union High School (FUHSD) board of trustees approved budget restructuring and expenditure reductions that may cut summer school and the jobs of one school counselor and six certified teachers at their board meeting on March 2.

“As a board member, this is one of the most difficult decisions I could make,” said Mike Schulte. “The reason we even need to make these cuts is to be financially responsible.”

The 2010-2011 school year is the second consecutive year of declining enrollment, with additional years of declining enrollment being forecast for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, said FUHSD superintendent Dale Mitchell. Additionally, the lack of state funding for educational programs has crippled the district.

To close the gap in the district's $1.8 million budget deficit, Mitchell recommended several restrictions that would impact the entire district.

Mitchell recommended that fewer summer school courses be offered; a reduction be made in supplies by 10 percent; two teaching assistant positions be made, custodial services be reduced by one position and transportation services be cut.

The most controversial cut made to the budget was the proposed layoff of nine certificated employees, including four probationary teachers, five permanent certified teachers and an assistant principal.

The layoff would include a reduction to art, band, computer sciences, English and geographic information systems, as well as an elimination of a math teaching position and the metal shop teacher.

Community members pleaded for reprieve on behalf of various classes, asking the board to reconsider their choice.

“Because of the industrial arts, my son was able to get a job with <a local auto repair business>,” said Fallbrook resident Diana Holm. “Metal shop taught my son how to cut and weld; wood shop taught him how to make furniture. These programs are integral to the community.”

“If the machinists and metal workers of the community were to know that was going to be eliminated, they would be appalled,” said auto shop teacher Kevin Karnes. “There is no machinist school in nearby community colleges or high schools, but machinists are high in demand. This teaching program allows students to walk out of high school and get a job.”

However, the quality possibly being eliminated is not what is being questioned, said Mitchell.

“I'm not convinced that other choices will be any more palatable,” said Mitchell. “World languages are important, as are visual and performing arts. If we do not have an adverse effect on electives, we will raise class size in the core classes.”

“One-third of cuts are being made in one department,” countered Bill O'Connor. “We are not slicing or taking part of a department, if we eliminate , it's gone. I would like to see thought in our decisions; we still have options.”

O'Connor received a standing ovation from audience members when he called for the teachers union and retired teachers to join him in donating a part of their pension to help save programs.

“My wife and I are willing to give whatever percent of our pension necessary to save these programs,” he declared. “While that might not seem like much, if others join us, we can save a program.”

Board member Marc Steffler believes Mitchell has presented a sound plan for reductions.

“Surrounding districts are making significantly worse decisions,” he said. “If our core isn't right, the community is not going to be interested in our electives. I'm not going to support a program where we are going to lose so many people.”

“We have not asked employees to take pay cuts or shorten the work year, which is unheard of,” said Schulte.

However, Koehler said the unions must approve any furlough or work year reduction.

“If they agreed, a single percent reduction in pay would save the district $192,000.”

“The question the board must ask is, 'what would a professional say?'” said Mitchell. “A professional would reduce salespeople or employees if sales were down.”

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