The Hesperia Unified School District voted Tuesday afternoon to save the district's elementary school music program -- but it may not be that simple.

Board member Lee Rogers said the savings generated by dissolving the district's photo shop program -- eliminating those staff positions was also on the agenda Tuesday, and passed by a 3-1 vote -- would be almost sufficient to save the four elementary school music teachers scheduled to be laid off.

At Tuesday's meeting, board members were given a memorandum prepared by the district's personnel staff. The memo itemized all of the salary and benefits costs for the elementary music teachers and the high school piano teacher who have received pink slips for the coming school year. The total cost to bring back both the high school piano and elementary music programs is listed as $387,217, although some of the salaries listed are lower than those paid to the veteran teachers who currently teach the elementary school music program.

(The district's high school teacher, Surojeet Chatterji, has a more complicated situation, according to district officials, and even if money for his program is restored, his return for the 2008-2009 school year is not guaranteed.)

According to a 10-page memo distributed to school board members on May 17, district staff had projected spending $410,721 on the salary of seven photo shop employees in the 2008-2009 school year. The district is also scheduled to spend $93,287 leasing photo shop equipment in a lease that extends until October 2011.

The memo also predicted the photo shop would bring in $41,508 less than it generated in the coming school year, down from an expected loss of $324,008 in the 2007-2008 school year and $558,586 in the 2006-2007 school year.

The memo also cast a more skeptical eye over the participation rates in the photo program than the original business plan created by former Kingston Elementary School Principal David Long, who had based his plan on a near-total participation in the program. The May 17 analysis included both low and high estimates for each type of product, such as a low-ball estimate of 15 percent of Sultana High School's graduating class purchasing a senior class panoramic group photo for $15, and a higher estimate of 50 percent of students purchasing the photo. In the worse case scenario, the photo would have generated $1,230 for the district, versus $4,125 for the district in the more optimistic scenario.

The board voted 4-0 in favor of spending the photo shop money on the elementary music program. (Board member Bruce Minton was absent due to illness.)

Even if the music program is saved for the coming year, it may only be a one year stay of execution: If the state's budget woes continue on as currently predicted, the HUSD is looking at possibly laying off 22 teachers, 13 school staff and five administrators after the 2008-2009 school year, according to George Landon, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services.

This year, non-teaching staff and administrators opted to take days off without pay in lieu of layoffs, while teachers union members voted to simply take the 32 layoffs this year.

Teachers make up roughly 60 percent of the salary and benefits pie, followed by staff at 25 percent and administrators at 15 percent.

"Unless the budget situation turns around for the state," board president Robert Kirk said, further layoffs "won't be a possibility, it will be a probability."

The state of California is currently facing an estimated $17 billion deficit. Much of public school funding in California comes in the form of payments from the state based on districts' Average Daily Attendance rate at each school. ADA funds make up 73 percent of the HUSD's general fund. The governor has proposed a 7 percent cut in ADA payments for the 2008-2009 school year.

And cutting anything other than salary and benefits won't be easy.

"Eighty percent of our budget is salary and benefits," Kirk said. "Other things are pretty much fixed."

The next meeting of the school board will be held on June 9 in the Education Support Center, 15576 Main Street.

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