Although Gov. Jerry Brown has said there will be no new cuts to public education, the Victor Valley's largest school district is preparing for them anyway.


Saying that public education has borne too much of the cost-cutting load in recent years, Brown has said he'd keep funding "flat" for education in the next budget. But his plan relies on the voters approving extending taxes that are scheduled to expire, which many in the Hesperia Unified School District believes they're unlikely to do. And if they don't approve extending the taxes, the district will lose $7 million from next school year's budget.


By law, school districts have to tell teachers if their services won't be required in the coming school year by March 15. (Other employees must be told 45 days before the new school year begins.) And the Hesperia Unified school board discussed how they might cut costs in one department at Monday night's board meeting: the district's in-house police department.


"No one's disputing" the important work the police department does, said board president Chris Bentley, who'd put the item on Monday's agenda. However, "we start our police officers at $10 an hour more than [San Bernardino County] deputy sheriffs."


Sheriff's deputies start at $55,681 annually and max out at $77,937. The seven officers of the HUSD police department start at $67,642 and max out at $76,131. The school police department hires experienced officers from other departments, according to Sgt. Cindy McCarter, who would make more than the $55,681 base pay that the sheriff's department pays new sheriff's academy graduates. Deputies are also eligible for additional pay for continuing education, which HUSD police officers are not. Deputies are also able to retire five years earlier, with a 50-percent larger pension.


The school police department currently has three unfilled vacancies, due to budget cuts, Graham said Tuesday, and the department has instituted a number of cost-cutting measures, from switching to cheaper uniforms to turning off their engines to save gasoline.


"We've got to look at all kind of things" to save money, said Superintendent Mark McKinney on Monday night.


But board member Anthony Riley said the scrutiny of the district's police department was political, not financial, in its motivation: The department's chief, Mike Graham, had accused Bentley of bullying employees at a Jan. board meeting, echoing comments by Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Services Matt Spencer.


"It's politically convenient," said Riley.


"We're in a zero-sum game," replied Bentley. "If you don't want to look at this, what do you want to put up?"


"You just rattled off a list" of potential cuts, said Riley. "Why aren't those on tonight's agenda?"


"What is politically motivated about $7 million [in cuts]?" said Bentley. "I don't need to convince you of anything, Mr. Riley."


"This is politically motivated," said Riley. "That's the bottom line."


Although it wasn't on the agenda at Monday's meeting, the district is also considering making cuts in its alternative education system, which includes two high schools and a night school program.


"As we are looking at a $7 million loss in revenue, we must review all programs and services," McKinney wrote in an e-mail to the Hesperia Star. "There are discussions about restructuring how we provide our Alt. Ed. Services.


"We have a nice print shop," board member Eric Swanson said Monday night, "but they don't print money."


The next regular meeting of the HUSD school board will be held 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.