School district cuts budget


Facing its worst budget crisis in decades, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education last Thursday approved two recommendations they hope will trim its budget-year shortfall by half.

By cutting more than $300,000 for personnel positions that have not been filled for the current fiscal year, and by voting to “actively” recruit students to bring in more state funding, the board estimates it will reduce its budget shortfall to $2 million-$2.5 million for the 2000-2001 year. In a series of meetings through June (see timeline), and hoping Gov. Gray Davis will include more general school funding in the state’s budget, the board will decide what other items to cut.

One of the meetings will be held at Malibu High School Feb. 15., 4-7 p.m.

“It’s downright embarrassing for any school district to say we can’t afford these programs, especially in a booming economy,” Webster Elementary School Principal Phil Cott told The Malibu Times before the meeting. He was referring to the list of 65 options for cutting the budget presented to the board last month. Many cuts target library, nursing and physical education personnel, as well as after-hours programs; clubs and activities; middle and high school counselors, and special and bilingual education.

In addition, one principal would be assigned to administer both the Juan Cabrillo and Point Dume Marine Science Elementary schools; the supplies budget would be cut by 30 percent.

Elementary school instrumental music teachers were toward the bottom of the list of cuts and, along with special education, were targeted for reorganization.

“I can’t even function with what I’m given now,” said Pat Cairns, principal of Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, of the supplies cut. “I have to raise money to keep our school going. As it is now, principals have to be fund-raisers. Making cuts means we have to be even bigger fund-raisers than we are. We are lucky to be in this wonderful, supportive community, but parents and principals can only do so much.”

Cynthia Gray, principal of Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School, said she would comment on the cuts at the Feb. 15 public hearing.

According to Cott, losing library personnel, the nurse and physical education coaches would be critical and would unfairly burden the rest of the staff.

Malibu High student Nathan Ziv, who sits on the board, told them, “The kids are very upset about the budget cuts. The library aides offer so much. They tutor, they help with computer training. The kids are there early to meet with them. There are not enough volunteers to offset them.”

The library coordinator teaches students how to use the library, and maintains the library and textbook inventory. The nurse does health screening and first aid, classroom and education. The physical education teachers free other teachers for lesson planning and parent conferences, Cott said.

“It’s not fair to ask a 62-year-old teacher to play with a fifth-grader,” he added. “The cuts mean more responsibilities for fewer people.”

Referring to the governor’s education proposals outlined last week, district Superintendent Neil Schmidt told The Malibu Times, “I’ll wait to see the budget but I am extremely disappointed. It is all special targeting. It doesn’t address the general underfunding of schools.”

To contact the SM-MUSD, write to 1651-16th St., Santa Monica, CA 90404, Attn: Neil Schmidt, Superintendent; tel. 450.8338; fax 581-1138.