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Public schools gearing up for cuts

By CLAIRE ST. JOHN

Tuolumne County public schools are figuring how to tighten their belts in the face of a proposed $3 billion education budget cut that affects everyone from kindergartners to college students.

Local educators are brainstorming ways to cut costs after Gov. Gray Davis formally declared a fiscal crisis in California on Monday, but with many local districts suffering declining enrollment and already lean budgets, cuts will be difficult.

"Everything is going to be on the table, and we'll identify what are the sacred cows of the school district," said Leigh Shampain, superintendent of Summerville Elementary School.

Right now, districts are waiting for the word to come down from the state, but Shampain estimates Summerville will have to slice $65,000 from the budget if Davis' proposal passes.

Sonora High School District Superintendent Rob Gaskill estimates his district will suffer a $439,000 shortage.

"It's a hard situation for us," Gaskill said. "Certainly that money is not something we can absorb and go on with business as usual."

Sonora High School District's first step is to cut spending, Gaskill said. Effective Friday, the district will freeze all non-essential purchases and travel.

"This is an interim step," Gaskill said.

To speculate on other cuts would do more damage than good at this point, he said.

Colleges from community through university will also suffer repercussions from the state's fiscal crisis.

Proposed cuts for the community college system total $200 million over 18 months. Because the cuts are coming mid-year, $135 million of the total will come from the system's current $6.2 billion budget.

"We can't turn the phones off," said Jim Riggs, president of Columbia College. "There's some things that have to continue."

But with 92 percent of Columbia College's budget locked in fixed personnel costs, Riggs said classes listed in the spring course catalog — some of which are offered over and above what the state pays for — will have to be canceled.


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