Monday night, the lead negotiator for the teachers union challenged the Hesperia Unified School District school board to take a cut alongside the district employees.


"Perhaps you could cut some of your health benefits and stipends to show some leadership," said Betsy Patridge, a Hesperia Junior High School 8th grade language arts teacher, and the Hesperia Teachers Association's lead negotiator with the district.


These are tough times for the Victor Valley's largest employer: The HUSD, which receives most of its funding from the cash-strapped state government, must close a growing deficit in the millions of dollars before the new school year begins. Even as employee unions continue to negotiate with the district, the school board is preparing for the worst, approving a plan this week to lay off up to 94 teachers if they need to.


The five members of the board get a $486 monthly stipend and a health and welfare benefits package worth a little more than $13,000 a year.


In a way, the board already has cut back, according to school board president Hardy Black.


"In essence, we've cut back the last few years," Black said Thursday. "In the past, it's been an automatic 5 percent increase [in the stipend], and every year I've been on [the board], we've denied it."


Since Black was elected in 2006, teacher salaries have gone up "about 10 percent," he said.


"I imagine that conversation will come up. We've been talking about the big dollars," Black said.


The district is facing a $13 million deficit next year. Cutting 100 percent of the board's stipend and health and welfare benefits would come to roughly $94,000.


"It's not even significant," Black said. "We get the same dental, medical and vision plan that the certificated administrators get. ... The teachers have a more Cadillac plan than the administrators."


The conversation about board stipends will be coming up on Thurs., Feb. 18 in Apple Valley, however: The Apple Valley Unified School District school board is scheduled to vote on cutting their stipend by 25 percent at their next meeting, citing "the current fiscal crisis in education." The cut, if approved, would take effect immediately.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star