(Updated Friday, February 1, 2008 at 6:10 p.m.)

California's $14 billion deficit will mean pain locally, the acting head of the Hesperia Unified School District said last Monday night.

"At this point, it's preliminary, but we're looking at some pretty significant cuts," interim superintendent Mark McKinney said at the meeting of the Hesperia Unified School District school board.

At this point, the HUSD's general fund -- which is separate from the facilities fund used to build and improve schools -- will likely be cut by $600,000, he said. That number is likely to grow to $6.5 million in cuts in the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1. Unlike the city of Hesperia and the Hesperia Recreation and Park District, a large portion of the HUSD's revenues comes from the state.

"Those of you who were here in the '90s," McKinney said, "This is about as bad as that was."

"The goal is to make the cuts as far away from kids as possible, but when you're talking about $6.5 or $7 million, that's going to be difficult," school board president Robert Kirk said later. "Parents need to talk to their legislators about whether they want to make these cuts or if they want to raise some revenue."

Although McKinney didn't get into specifics Monday night, new expenses are likely to be an early casualty of the state's budget crisis.

"I want to be very cautious, moving forward, about hiring new staff or starting new projects," he said.

The district's current flat enrollment growth, and the decline in enrollment expected next year, has its upside: According to officials, the HUSD will likely pause construction on Cedar Glen and Verano Elementary Schools -- neither of which have broken ground yet -- and spread students out into existing schools and other schools currently under construction.

But those new schools will come with additional expenses as well.

"When we open Oak Hills High School, it's going to cost about $2.4 million," said school board member Bruce Minton, "Because we have to buy school uniforms, we have to buy books, we have to buy band instruments, we have to buy desks. All of those things aren't included in the [construction] cost."

The school district's overall budget is about $150 million, so a $6.5 million cut doesn't seem bad on the face of it, but much of that budget is locked up in specific expenses negotiated by contracts.

"We spend about 73 to 74 percent [of the general fund] on salaries and wages," Minton said. "That leaves us 27 to 26 percent to run all the schools and keep them operating. ... We have 22 schools. You know what utilities are doing on your house. It's no cheaper for the schools. So somewhere, we have to cut, and I think that's where Mark has been very proactive."

The interim superintendent said he is seeking input from everyone in the HUSD -- the High Desert's single largest employer -- on ways to trim costs.

"Together, we can solve this issue," McKinney said.

"It's going to be a joint decision. We're going to get all the stakeholders involved in whatever decision comes down the pike," Kirk said. The district's goal will be to make the cuts "as far away from the kids as possible and hurting the personnel as little as possible."

The next meeting of the Hesperia Unified School District school board will be held on Wednesday, February 13 at 6 p.m. at the Administration & Educational Support Center, 15576 Main Street.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.