Opening of new middle school in Calabasas faces possible delay

Officials of Las Virgenes Unified School District said 55 different programs and services will be on the chopping block May 15 when the board of education makes final cuts to the district ‘s budget.

High on the list of cuts will be the new 35-classroom Alice C. Stelle Middle School in Calabasas.

The 2003-2004 budget must be submitted to Los Angeles County for certification by July 1.

"Parents are worried sick that if the school doesn’t open on time, that it might not open for years because this budget crisis is not going to disappear," said Mary Sue Maurer, a parent.

The state’s $35 billion deficit will cost local schools dearly, officials said. The amount is close to the entire sum spent on California public education.

"There is no indication at this time that it’s going to get better," said Donald Zimring, Las Virgenes deputy superintendent.

Officials have separated the school programs into four priority groups and will make a final decision on which programs to cut at the May meeting.

"We wanted to protect jobs and we wanted to protect the integrity of the classroom," said Terilyn Finders, school board president.

Although crowding is getting worse at the city’s other middle school, A.E. Wright, delaying the opening of the new school would save $375,000, according to district officials.

Other than the elimination of teacher raises, it’s the biggest single savings the district could implement.

Scheduled to open this fall, the school has been placed in the category of items most likely to get axed.

"In order to have ACS (Alice C. Stelle) open next year, they’re going to have to have outside funding," Zimring said. He blamed state budget makers for creating "accounting tricks" that have harmed local school districts.

The city of Calabasas reportedly wants to see the new school open on time and will consider donating funds to help make it happen.

The May 15 school board meeting will be from 5 to 8 p.m. at school district headquarters, 4111 N. Las Virgenes Road, Calabasas.

––John Loesing

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