Calif. Budget Cuts Foul Opening of $105 Million School

Tuesday, 31 May 2011 09:49 AM

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The “Field of Dreams” mantra of “If you build it, they will come” turned out to be flat-out wrong in Riverside, Calif., where the halls of a brand-spanking-new, $105 million high school will ring hollow, too. State budget cuts have left the Alvord Unified School District so strapped that it can’t afford to open the high-tech Hillcrest High School of dreams next fall, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Although leaving the new school shuttered will save $3 million, the school district still will have to pay $1 million for maintenance and security at the facility, which includes wireless Internet, a robotics lab, digital smart boards in every classroom, and a top-notch performance hall, the Times reports.

What’s more, the school might not even open in 2012-13, which would befoul its purpose of relieving jampacked classrooms in the district’s other high schools. Meanwhile, its students will have to go to La Sierra High School, which already has 3,400 students — double the number it was designed to handle, according to the Times.

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District voters told school officials to build Hillcrest in a 2007 referendum in which they overwhelmingly approved a $196 million bond measure for it and other school improvements.

"The decision to build was made about five years ago, when the economy seemed to be in pretty good shape," said Supt. Wendel Tucker. "Once the building process started, it really couldn't stop."

The building couldn’t stop, but Golden State money did, and Tucker estimates that the state slashed $25 million in funding for his district during the past three years. That’s a heavy blow to a district with a $130 million annual budget and 20,000 students.

The district tried to tighten its belt, furloughing 40 full-time teachers, expanding class sizes, cutting school bus routes, and trimming extracurricular activities. When those measures didn’t work, the school board voted to delay opening Hillcrest High.

"It's extremely frustrating. We made a promise to the community, and I think we need to keep it," board member Greg Kraft told the Times. "Still, I think people understand that it's not because of anything the school district did. We weren't being unwise with our money."

Echoing that comment is Leigh Hawkinson, president of the Alvord Educators Association, who told the Times: "Hillcrest High is a perfect example of what's wrong with state funding right now."

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