Which Hesperia teachers could potentially be laid off later this year comes down to which cuts will cause the least pain for students and the district, according to the district's superintendent.

"This has obviously been a difficult and non-pleasant process," Hesperia Unified School District Superintendent Mark McKinney said Thursday. "The bottom line is that we looked at, in terms of programs, when you're talking $5.5 million out of [a $60 million budget], you're going to impact personnel costs."

The HUSD school board was forced to decide on what teachers could potentially be cut at their March 10 meeting, based on warnings from Sacramento that state revenues will be down significantly -- the state faces an estimated $14 billion-and-growing deficit. The board decided on cutting up to 54.5 teachers from the workforce of the largest school district in the Victor Valley, should Sacramento's contributions to the HUSD's budgets live up to the worst-case scenario.

"We had to look at the savings of the cut versus the impact of the cut," McKinney said. "The harsh reality is that there comes a point where it's going to be a judgment call."

The district's elementary schools face the brunt of the cuts, with 12.5 elementary classroom teachers, four elementary music teachers and 24 kindergarten teachers having been told they face potential layoffs. (The half of a teacher is currently employed part-time.)

Currently, the state provides additional funds to help reduce class sizes in elementary schools, down to 20 students for one teacher. The program is one of those likely to be axed when legislators finalize the new state budget, and the HUSD, and other school districts, is left holding the bag.

"Kindergarten is a half-day program," McKinney said. "Am I getting a better benefit [from more teachers], instructionally, at grades 1, 2 and 3?"

The HUSD's department heads and assistant superintendents -- known collectively as the district's cabinet -- made the decisions about what departments would face the cuts.

"As an instructional guy, I don't want to lose class size reduction," McKinney said. "That single K teacher who got a pink notice, they're not thinking 'hey, this is a minor thing.' Clearly, they're not thinking that. Having gotten these notices and given these notices, I know the pain they're going through."

Other proposed cuts include three middle school math/science teachers, two middle school home economics teachers, a middle school physical education teacher, a middle school English/physical education teacher, a middle school social science teacher, a middle school language arts/social science teacher and a middle school success teacher. At the high school level, an ROTC teach, a work experience teacher, a consumer science teacher and a piano teacher face potential cuts.

"This is not a decision made on the quality of the class," McKinney said. "It comes down to dollars and cents."

Overall, it's the three Rs -- reading, writing and 'rithmetic -- are the ones most protected from the cuts, due to state and federal expectations of school curriculums.

"Some [classes] are looked at more closely from a graduation perspective."

McKinney met with most of the pink-slipped teachers last week.

"I just wanted to have a heart-to-heart," he said. "'This hurts me, and I know it doesn't feel like it, because I'm not the one who got the pink slip.'"

And although the district had to prepare for potential teacher cuts by March 15, layoffs of teachers and other staff (which may be up to 50 percent higher, according to projections by the state department of education), are not yet a done deal, even if there's no surprise good news on the budget front.

District officials will meet with representatives of the Hesperia Teachers Association and California School Employees Association unions next week to discuss possibly deferring the raises agreed to just prior to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's announcement of the state's budget deficit.

"In order to save jobs, what will they be willing to do?" McKinney said. "I cannot just unilaterally freeze salaries."

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