As they attempt to trim $7 million from next school year's budget, Hesperia Unified is considering dramatic changes to its alternative education program.


The Victor Valley's largest school district currently has two alternative education high schools, Mojave and Canyon Ridge High Schools; a night school program, Sunset Point High School; and an independent study program, Shadow Ridge Alternative.


The district could save $981,794 if they restructured the alternative education programs, officials told the school board at a budget workshop on Thursday night. Closing Sunset Point alone would save the district $338,809.


But supporters of the HUSD's alternative education programs were not interested in going gently into the night. Thursday night, supporters of Canyon Ridge High School filled the board's meeting room and almost two dozen people watched the workshop on closed-circuit television in an overflow room.


"By your decisions, these kids are destined to be dropouts," instead of going back to the HUSD's comprehensive high schools, Canyon Ridge Principal Bill Pittsford told the board.


Twenty percent of the district's 2010 graduates came from the HUSD's alternative education programs, he said, and saved money for society in the long run: Every dropout costs taxpayers $260,000 more than graduates over a lifetime, he said.


In the short term, however, the smaller class sizes for alternative education programs cost the district much more, according to HUSD figures:


It costs $10,146 to educate a student at Mojave for one year, $8,415 at Canyon Ridge and $7,736 at Sunset Point. (Independent study through Shadow Ridge costs on $3,850.) In comparison, it costs $6,088 to educate a Hesperia High School student for one year, $5,858 at Sultana High School and $4,650 at Oak Hills High School.


"These students do cost more money," said Pittsford, who begged the board to leave Canyon Ridge intact, "but they are well, well worth it."


The next regular meeting of the HUSD school board will be held on March 7 at 6 p.m. in the HUSD Educational Support Center Annex, 15576 Main Street.


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