By Ryan Hagen Staff Writer
Posted: 06/17/2011 09:27:27 PM PDT

COLTON – The school board solidified its earlier elimination of crossing guards, Future Farmers and other popular programs Thursday night as it passed a bare-bones budget for the 2011-12 school year and detailed steep cuts for the following year.

Still, board members said they hope increased revenue and the return of money owed to them by the state will help them eventually reinstate some of those programs, as well as some of the 72 teachers, counselors and nurses who were laid off.

“I apologize to all who have been hurt by the cuts we’ve had to make,” said board member Roger Kowalski. “We had no choice, and I hope we can return them in the future.”

Jaime R. Ayala, the Colton Joint Unified School District’s assistant superintendent for business services, struck a less optimistic tone.

“The name of the game is caution because we don’t know what we will be facing in the coming year and the next two years,” Ayala said in his budget presentation.

Ayala said the district must cut an additional $8.6million in ongoing expenses from the 2012-13 budget and $7million more the year after that. Otherwise, he said, within four years the district’s $177million balance will fall below the state’s requirement of a 3percent reserve.

“Even with these massive cuts, we’re barely over the minimum,” he said.

Ayala’s projections also include an expected $1.5million boost from an ongoing initiative to raise student attendance – which determines how much money districts receive from the state – and programs to conserve energy and limit textbook purchases.

As the county requires, the board on Thursday approved a budget plan for 2013-14, which Ayala describes as a “worst-case scenario” that will probably be modified.

That plan includes closing two elementary schools, eliminating the music and sports programs and laying off scores of employees.

“The best way to avoid this is through negotiation with our bargaining units,” Ayala said.

Contract negotiations continue with the Association of Colton Educators, which represents the district’s 1,158 teachers, counselors, nurses and other certificated employees.

The remaining 950 non-management employees, represented by the California School Employees Association Colton Chapter 244, agreed June 7 to concessions including five unpaid furlough days in 2011-2012, saving the district’s General Fund an estimated $573,515.

But Karen Houck, president of the Association of Colton Educators, wasn’t buying the doom and gloom.

“I question the validity of this kind of budgeting when three years ago you weren’t right, either,” Houck said before rattling off nearly a dozen items from Thursday night’s agenda where she said the district might be able to save money.

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