By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/jhwF2L
7/1/2011 12:18:13 AM PDT - Los Angeles Unified's nationally recognized Academic Decathlon program took several hits this week as the district finalized a budget that threatens its status as a national powerhouse in the scholastic competition.
The district is reducing Academic Decathlon coordinator Cliff Ker's position to a part-time job, and assigning him to also work part time as an assistant principal in Bell.
LAUSD has won 12 national championships in the last two decades, and Ker has run the program for the last 11 years.
As part of the reductions the district had to make this year to close a $408 million budget gap, individual decathlon coaches will also see cuts to the stipends they receive for the massive number of hours they devote to their school teams.
"Over the years there have been times where it's seemed like I'm the only one who cares about this program, but I've tried to make it work as best I can with all obstacles," Ker said.
"I don't know how this is going to work, but I will do my best to make sure that it does... I can't let the kids and coaches down."
Ker, who lives in Chatsworth, will also be assigned as a part-time assistant principal at Bell High School - more than 45 miles from his home.
Decathlon coaches, who often work six to eight hours a day after school for much of the school year, used to receive stipends in the fall and the spring but will now only receive a spring stipend of about $2,100.
The Academic Decathlon program pits teams of students from around the country against each other in a series of local, regional state and national scholastic contests, each with 10 tests on a common theme.
The Academic Decathlon has been a particular point of pride in the San Fernando Valley, where local high schools, including El Camino Real and Taft, have won a combined nine titles.
The program has been on the LAUSD chopping block before.
In 2000, the district covered all $300,000 of the competition's expenses, which includes banquets and prizes for the winners. That amount has dwindled over the years, while corporate sponsors were asked to pick up more and more of the total.
In 2009 district officials threatened to shut down the program if $100,000 in donations could not be raised. Ker helped raise the money.
LAUSD Chief Academic Officer Judy Elliott assured the cuts would not threaten the quality of the program.
"The program is not being eliminated," Elliott said.
"But this year, as we're laying off teachers, counselors, psychologists... nobody can escape budget cuts."