Funding for school music, arts, nursing programs still on the block


School board members continued to grapple last week with unpopular options for balancing the district’s 2000-2001 budget.

Facing a significant shortfall, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District must trim “nonessential” programs or boost enrollment of “permitted” students, those who live outside the district.

PTA representatives have proposed joint budget sessions with the school board, its staff and the city councils of Santa Monica and Malibu. “The Santa Monica City Council has stated their commitment to partner,” said Rick Gates, PTA Council president. “They’re waiting to be asked by this board to the dance. You need to send a clear message, as a board, that you support PTA’s call for joint meetings.” Gates is slated to appear at the Feb. 14 Malibu City Council meeting.

The PTA announced its position on four measures to appear on the upcoming ballot: Supports Proposition 14, the Library Bond measure; and Proposition 26, School Bonds (simple majority); Opposes Proposition 21, Juvenile Crime, and Proposition 28, Repeal of Tobacco Surtax (Proposition 10).

The board also responded to parents of Special Education students, including Judy Pace from Malibu High School, who made a video presentation to the board and urged approval of a contract with Therapy West in Santa Monica to provide physical and occupational therapy for special education students. The board voted unanimously to approve the contract and also a contract for Malibu High School with Sylvan Learning Center for reading and math tutoring support for “underperforming” students.

Funding for the district’s Fine Arts programs was cut last year, and further reductions are proposed for the 2000-01 school year. The Advisory Committee on the Fine Arts presented a detailed list of those cuts and probable ramifications. Those targeting the district’s celebrated music program provoked strong opposition from parents and teachers. These reductions include Extra Duty Units (teachers’ pay for after-school rehearsal time), music aides at middle schools, transportation for the Samohi Marching Band (members already pay fees of more than $100 per year), and reorganizing the elementary instrumental music program by using a different “delivery system.” A committee member’s aside: “We don’t know what this means and, frankly, are afraid to ask.” The report notes, “Music programs are extremely sensitive to long-run damage by seemingly minor budgetary reductions because the programs (and hence, student competencies) build from elementary all the way through high school. If staff and programs are cut, when you go to restart them, they will take many years to restore.”

An item to replace school nurses with health clerks would save the district $190,000 but would compromise ongoing health education, screening/assessments and routine medical/health services. Nurse Melissa Casarez, who serves Webster Elementary, said, “One way I can promote the health and safety of our children is to identify the students who are at high risk for experiencing a life-threatening asthmatic episode before it is too late.” Asthma, she noted, is the leading serious chronic illness among children and relates to the district’s attendance and enrollment issues. “Asthma accounts for 10 million lost school days annually in the U.S. and is the leading cause of school absenteeism attributed to chronic conditions.”

California public schools are funded by the state on the basis of Average Daily Attendance (ADA).

The budget process relies on projected enrollment figures for the upcoming school year, which are often lower than the actual number of students attending after the beginning of the fall semester.

Enrollment projections for the 2000-2001 school year indicate the district can expect to enroll 12,156 pupils: 5,339 elementary, 2,946 middle school, 3,835 high school and 36 independent study pupils. This projection represents 12 pupils more than were enrolled during the second school month of 1999-00. Staff presented a 10-year comparison of enrollment projections with the actual second month enrollments, showing the margin of accuracy between 1 and 2 percent.

“Most times, we are accurate. We are generally conservative but we got caught this time,” said Assistant Superintendent Art Cohen. “We need another 300 to 400 permitted students.”

Further budget discussion and public comment was scheduled for Wednesday, from 4 to 7 p.m., in the board room of the district offices in Santa Monica and Feb. 15 in Malibu. Call 450.8338.

Vicky Newman contributed to this story.