Budget threat to school | TheUnion.com

Budget threat to school

A cut in anticipated funds to run Nevada County’s alternative school for at-risk students has the county superintendent and teachers wondering if the school can stay open for the rest of the year.

County Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer said Friday the state discovered a $50,000 shortfall in the school’s budget for 2002-03 and 2003-04 years, a figure that represents nearly a quarter of the Rehabilitate, Renew and Reinstate School’s annual budget.

McAteer was faxed a copy of the deficit late Thursday afternoon by an independent research firm that detailed the cuts to community day schools. The schools serve as educational outlets for students in the juvenile probation system, those who have been expelled or are referred to the program because of truancy problems.

The school occupies a rented building from the Salvation Army on Alta Street in Grass Valley. Three teachers and a number of aides work at the 18-student school five days a week.

McAteer broke the news of the deficit to his staff Friday morning.

“To say I’m livid is an understatement. No one should run a business like this and get away with it,” he said.

McAteer, who serves as the school’s principal, opened the “3R” campus during the 1994-95 school year, shortly after he was elected to the county’s top education post.

The state originally budgeted $210,000 a year for three classes of students, McAteer said.

Representatives from the California Department of Education said the cuts stem from a loss of anticipated revenues for community day schools, as well as the proliferation of them over the years. Since their creation by the Legislature in 1995, the state has added more than 100 of these schools in districts throughout California.

Don Sackheim, a program consultant for the CDE’s community day schools, said the state anticipated more revenues when they assembled the 2002-03 budget for the state’s 250 districts that oversee community day schools.

Sackheim said the original budget for community day schools stood at $42.2 million for that school year, a figure that included an anticipated $10 million in additional revenue for this school year.

County school districts submitted their budgets for both the 2002-03 and 2003-04 years. Because of the state’s deteriorating budget situation, the schools won’t receive the extra anticipated $10 million in their budgets this year, Sackheim said.

In a nutshell, the Legislature anticipated money that never materialized.

“In this case, the estimates were off,” Sackheim said. “The question is, will the Legislature put that money back into the budget?”

There’s no word on whether that’s a part of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plans yet.

“We have legislative staff and budget staff that are bringing this to the attention of lawmakers,” Sackheim said.

In the meantime, teachers at the 3R School are bracing for another year of uncertainty over their jobs and the fate of education for students for whom conventional education isn’t an option.

“On one level, it’s not that shocking,” teacher Paul Simoes said, shaking his head at the state’s blunder. “How could you run a family like that?”

Students are at the 3R school for eight hours a day, beginning at 8 a.m. They are required to wear green polo shirts or sweaters and blue slacks. Lunch and a snack are provided.

Students are taught the basics, in a setting where self-esteem, confidence-building and conflict resolution are key.

Each student is graded on a 100-point citizenship scale, their tallies posted on the walls.

“It’s not factory teaching,” said Simoes, a former teacher at a Marin County private high school.

The teachers are part taskmaster, part friend. It’s rare when the students don’t eat lunch with their instructors.

“Someone cares for them,” said McAteer’s assistant, Shirley Veale. “There’s a sense of a team here, a family.”

It’s a family that’s in danger of disappearing if the budget deficit can’t be erased. McAteer vowed to find money for the school, though it may cost special county-run programs such as art docent classes in the elementary schools.

Teacher Patrick Williams, who endured a layoff from Silver Springs High School last year, said he’s been hardened by the state’s situation.

It doesn’t make it any easier, however.

“To see (layoffs) again, it would be nothing new under the sun. It scary, but it callouses me up a bit.”

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