School trustees, citing a $150,000 shortfall, recently voted to eliminate 82 bilingual assistant positions and reduce the hours of 100 remaining assistants.

Westminster School District board members last week voted reluctantly–but unanimously–to cut the positions after being told by administrators of the funding problem.

“None of us likes it,” Supt. Barbara DeHart said. “We never even dreamed that we would have to do it, that this would happen.”

Of the 82 positions, 28 are already vacant; 54 part-time employees will be laid off as of Oct. 22, chosen by least seniority. The 100 bilingual assistants left will have their hours reduced from 17.5 to 15 a week.

The shortfall arose after approval of the state budget last month. That budget contained a 2.18% increase for “categorical” programs–including bilingual assistants–but the district is increasing salaries by 4.03%, leading to the shortfall.

DeHart said the cuts are not related to the recent passage of Proposition 227, which eliminated most bilingual education. Westminster was not affected by the proposition because it had received a waiver from the state’s bilingual requirements several years ago.

“Many people asked me the day after 227, ‘What’s going to happen to our instructional assistants?’ My answer was that they will still be here,” DeHart said.

“I know the timing of this is absolutely terrible,” she added.

But it was only in August, when Gov. Pete Wilson signed the budget, that the district learned of the problem, she said.

“Fortunes change, ” Trustee Michael J. Verrengia said. “We no longer have the money, and unfortunately we’re in the position to make a tough decision. Nobody likes to see anyone lose their job.”

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