LONG BEACH - Though it will still have the district in the red by upward of $145,000, Ocean Beach School District Superintendent Rainer Houser said that the budget for the 2007-08 school year puts them closer to being on target for a balanced budget than in recent years. The budget was approved by the school board at Monday night's meeting.

Thanks to a slight increase in state general and special funds - as well as a reduction in staff of five teachers, one administrator and one secretary - the district will go into the coming school year with a budget of $10,125,888, up $84,891 from last year. Houser praised the budget for being constructed in such a way that it will return funding to some areas that have gone without in recent years, including curriculum and technology enhancements. The maintenance budget also draws a fair amount of funds this year, including the remaining payments towards the stadium repair project. Houser said they will draw from the district's reserve funds to balance the budget.

"We're certainly moving in the right direction," he said.

Construction newsIn his monthly reports, Houser informed the board that work to fix the high school track has been completed and that restoration work at the stadium is continuing on schedule. He said the vertical columns have been sandblasted to remove rust and work has now moved on to the roof support joists. He said that the project is still on target for completion in mid-August.

But while these projects continue on, past projects are still dogging the district. Ambia, the architectural firm that designed the two elementary schools and Hilltop and which was much lauded at the time, has brought a lawsuit against the district claiming to be owed upward of $300,000 for additional services. Houser said that in meeting with the district lawyers they have yet to conclude as to whether this claim is accurate.

As for the construction job at Hilltop, Houser said the project is in a "state of transition." He said the bonding company, Zurich, has been looking into what it will take to complete the school, as well as the unfinished punch-list items at the two elementaries, left unfinished when RB&G Construction left the job late last year. Houser said he expects there to be a conclusion in the next week or two that will either see RB&G return to the job - if they are capable - or, perhaps more likely, Zurich bringing in a new contractor to finish the work. Houser said once the contractor situation is settled, the top priorities will be the completion of the gymnasium and auditorium.

New sex ed programOcean Park School Principal Bette Arne, who also heads up district curriculum, brought forth two new programs that were adopted by the board, one; an updated sex education course, and two; a program designed to curb underage drinking and drug use.

Arne said that this last year students at the high school had complained that the sex ed courses were particularly dated. Board chairman Kim Patten called this the "first real chance" to the sex education component in years. He said he has been very dissatisfied with how previous superintendents have handled it.

Arne also added that underage drinking - 13 being identified as the key age of exposure - was of high concern. Patten was concerned at the lack of coverage the curriculum gave to inhalants, a current drug of choice by many teens now, to which Arne said the committee will keep an eye on it.

The recommendations for the new curriculum came from the district's Health and Wellness committee. The new programs will be implemented this fall and reach into the classrooms of all grade levels. Arne said a letter will go out to parents in the fall explaining the new curriculum.

The new curriculum come at minimal cost to the district - the FLASH program, which deals with sex education costs $2,400 and the "Protecting You, Protecting Me" drug and alcohol program costs $2,495. That outstanding amount shrank significantly Monday night as Florence Shawa, who is on the committee, pulled out a check from the Zahl Foundation for $1,000 and promised another $1,495 for the drug and alcohol program.

Patten also asked about how they will track the progress of the new curriculum. Arne said they will evaluate at the end of the school year, but said it usually takes a few years before they have solid data.

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