Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 01/19/2010 06:09:59 PM PST

FONTANA – Educators here said Tuesday the worst budget deficit they have seen in the history of the Fontana Unified School District could lead to layoffs and deep program cuts.

The district faces a projected $28 million shortfall for the 2010-11 school year.

“We’re dealing with peoples’ lives, vitality – everything,” said Richard Bruce, president of United Steelworkers Local 8599, which represents more than 1,500 classified workers in the district.

A budget committee comprised of district officials and employee representatives is meeting this week to hammer out solutions ranging from scaling back maintenance to laying off teachers in a district of 42,000 students.

Officials projected a $15.7 million deficit just a month ago. But the deficit has cratered in the face of proposed state budget cuts to education.

Superintendent Cali Olsen-Binks said district lobbyists are trying to untangle the cuts that affect education here.

“The governor cut $201 per student, but we aren’t sure in what way it’s going to work out,” she said. “The governor promised to safeguard education. He didn’t.”

Olsen-Binks said the budget mess is worse than any she has witnessed in her 20 years in the district.

And there won’t be much help on the way, unlike last year when stimulus dollars somewhat blunted the impact of a $25 million budget reduction.

The district has until March 15 to notify certificated personnel such as teachers and counselors that they could lose their jobs at the end of the school year.

District officials said they want to keep cuts as far away from the classroom as possible and they haven’t yet determined if or how many cuts there will be.

But one trustee said the sheer size of the deficit may make it impossible to avoid teacher layoffs.

“With these cuts we have to make, (that’s) hard to do,” Julie Ramos said.

Officials are considering furloughs as a jobs-saving measure.

Bruce said his group, which represents support service personnel from secretaries to electricians, would be open to the idea.

“If that means everybody gives up a day a year to keep people working, it’s well worth it,” Bruce said.

Last year his group saw more than 100 laid off. All but a handful were brought back. Many had reduced hours.

Bruce said that meant some sites saw their clerical pool reduced from six to two, leaving many workers to take on twice the amount of responsibilities in half the time.

The district has been cut to the bone and officials will need to be creative to save jobs, Bruce said.

“You can’t cut everybody and have the schools still running,” he said.

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