Almost 200 Hesperia Unified School District teachers will be absent when the new school year begins in August.

At their meeting Monday evening, the HUSD school board voted to lay off 181 teachers and 17 principals and district office employees. The HUSD is the largest employer in the Victor Valley, employing 2,106 people as of Monday afternoon.

By state law, teachers and instructional managers whose services will not be required in the coming school year must be notified by March 15. In better economic times, that's more than enough time to find work in another school district, but many districts are also laying off employees this year. The board's vote on Monday was a worst-case scenario vote: If additional funds are found or other cuts are made before March 15, some of the jobs can be saved.

Teachers

Elementary schools absorbed the bulk of the cuts in the HUSD, with three physical education teachers and 153 classroom teachers laid off. The cuts are separate from the previously announced layoffs of 70 first, second and third grade teachers whose salaries are subsidized by the state's Class Size Reduction payments. The budget approved by the state legislature on Feb. 19 left those funds intact, but educators are skeptical that the funds will actually be paid to districts.

"The real-life impacts of what we're talking about is that we're going from 20-to-1 [students to teachers] in a classroom to 35-to-1," said board member Chris Bentley, who has four children who attend elementary school in the HUSD. According to Bentley, the cuts slash 35 percent of the HUSD's elementary schools' staffs. "This is seismic."

At the middle school level, the board voted to lay off a math and science teacher, three English teachers, two social science teachers and a part-time cadet corps instructor.

"I'm only making a little over 20 grand a year," Col. Larry Ott, the Hesperia Junior High School cadet corps instructor, told the board as he pled his case. "I'm just a little bit of pocket change."

At the high school level, the board voted to lay off a work experience teacher, the district's high school piano teacher, a state testing instructor, a guidance counselor, five English teachers, three social science teachers, a science teacher, a Spanish teacher, two business teachers, an art teacher and two night program teachers.

"Serious study of the piano involves the heart and the mind as no other course of study can do," piano teacher Surajeet Chatterji told the board. His program was originally cut during the spring 2008 budget cuts, before the board reversed direction. On Monday night, just as before, more than a dozen people came to speak on behalf of Chatterji and his program, but to no avail.

The district cut newer teachers over more senior teachers and teachers with lesser credentials over more highly qualified teachers.

District office, principals

Management also received cuts: Seventeen principals and district office management positions were cut, including a coordinator of curriculum and technology, the director of alternative education, an alternative education school principal, an elementary school principal and 13 elementary school assistant principals. The work year was also shortened for 107 managers and counselors.

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a long-delayed state budget earlier this month (the budget was to be signed, by law, by June 15, 2008), it included $14.8 billion in spending cuts, including $7.4 billion in cuts for schools and community colleges this year, and an additional $3.2 billion next year.

Last year, 70 percent of the HUSD's $160 million budget came from state revenues. With the decline in funds, layoffs were all but inevitable, as there are few other places the district can cut: More than 80 percent of the budget is salary and benefits.

Future cuts

There are likely more layoffs to come, perhaps as late as mid-summer: Non-teaching employees whose services are not needed in the coming year must be notified no later than 45 days before the new school year begins.

"None of this, none of this is palatable to me," said Rogers. "We have to make these decisions. ... But it doesn't taste good."

"I don't know what to tell our kids," Bentley said, "And it's supposed to be about them."

The next meeting of the HUSD school board will be held on Monday, March 9, at 6 p.m. in the HUSD Educational Support Center Annex, 15576 Main Street.

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