By Jorge Casuso
June 8, 2009 – The Santa Monica-Malibu School Board last week voted to cut one of the six houses on the Samohi campus but decided to keep two advisors and one outreach specialist during the upcoming school year.
The board -- which is grappling with a looming budget shortfall -- found itself facing more than three dozen parents and students who mounted a vocal lobby Thursday to retain the A House and its principal, Wendy Wax Gellis, who has been transferred to Malibu Middle School.
In the end, the board opted to shut down the house to save some $500,000, but agreed to retain staff to help usher seniors through their final year and into college at a cost of some $220,000.
“These are staff members providing direct services to youth,” School Board member Oscar de la Torre, who made the motion to retain some of the staff, said after the meeting. “When (the students) become seniors, who’s going to be writing letters of recommendation?
“Nobody wants to remove the house, but we have to be fiscally responsible that we balance the budget,” de la Torre said.
The board was hoping to cut $700,000 by eliminating the nine house staff members in the hopes of making up a bigger chunk of the $3 million the State is expected to take from the district in an effort to bridge a deficit of more than $24 billion.
“We already made $12 million in cuts” over the next three years, said School Board President Ralph Mechur. “It’s not fun, but we have to find a way” to balance the budget.
District officials noted that cutting one of the six houses at the system’s biggest campus still maintains the same ratio of students to teachers achieved in 2003, because enrollment at Samohi has fallen from 3,449 students to 2,891 students, a reduction of 16.1 percent.
“We had started the house system with more students,” Mechur said. “We felt we could reduce one house and have the students keep the contact with adults.
“We are hoping there will be a successful transition,” he said. “The hope was to make a full transition of changes.”
With the district facing further budget cuts from the State, officials say they must still look for ways to bridge the budget gap.
“Either we start making small cuts now,” de la Torre said, “or we have to make tremendous cuts two to three years from now.”
De la Torre said the District is hoping the economy will begin improving, but noted that steps still need to be taken.
“We need to look at some revenue enhancement models,” he said. “There has to be a way to do some fundraising or go back to the voters for a limited parcel tax. If not, we’re going to have to make some huge cuts.”