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Layoff-laden budget tabled until next meeting

| Thursday, June 12, 2003

Woodland Hills School Board members Wednesday night tabled a vote on a budget that would have raised taxes by 1.4 mills.

The $69.1 million budget also would have restored approximately 30 of the 69 teaching and support staff positions the district considered cutting.

More than 100 staff members were at the meeting to assail the board over the proposed cuts.

"I will file grievances immediately," teachers union head Barbara Struth-Wieser said.

Struth-Wieser has said she will file grievances with the district on 18 of the originally proposed layoffs because she feels those positions were being cut to balance the budget, which is against state law.

The district last week sent out letters to 69 staff members -- 39 covered by the support staff's union and 30 unionized teachers -- telling them they could be laid off when the budget for 2003-2004 is finally approved. Of the positions the budget considered last night would have restored, 27 would have been teachers' aides and three would have been teachers.

But board members said the budget should be examined more closely. They intend to seek more information on class schedules from the administration.

There was no indication when the board intends to meet again on the budget, but school boards must pass a balanced budget no later than June 30. Because their next regularly scheduled meeting is not until July 2, they will have to call a special meeting to pass the budget.

"I truly believe that the budget has not been scrutinized enough," said Marilyn Messina, of Edgewood, who was one of the 5-4 majority opting to table the vote on the budget.

Faced with a $4 million deficit for 2003-2004, school board members have been debating for weeks the merits of a tax increase or finding ways to trim the budget.

Various proposals, including scotching a team learning concept at the junior high schools, doing away with interscholastic sports in the junior highs, and tax increases ranging from 2 to 2.47 mills have been discussed.

At the current rate of 21.9 mills, the owner of a home valued at $50,000 pays $1,095 in school taxes per year.

Board members indicated that the majority of the teaching layoffs would come at the junior high school level.

Superintendent Ron Grimm has been in conflict with board members who want him to abandon a team learning concept at the junior high schools that involves teams of as many as 125 students being taught by corresponding teams of as many as seven teachers.

Grimm said the concept is a way for children at the vulnerable junior high school age to get better attention from their teachers in such core subjects as mathematics and reading and writing.

Grimm said double periods in those core subjects in what he calls a "Middle Level Learning Center" will help the district's sagging math scores.

In federal court filings last week, attorneys for the district's black parents alleged that the district provides different educational tracks in mathematics for black and white students.

In 2001, 64.6 percent of the district's black 11th-graders scored at below-basic levels in PSSA math tests. None scored at advanced levels.

But in that year 16.2 percent of the district's white students hit the advanced level. Only 28.1 percent of those white 11th-graders scored at the below-basic level.

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