By Jennifer Henion

Triplicate staff writer

Bracing for the worst budget news of many decades, the Del Norte County Unified School District will send 71 pink slips to teachers and administrators by March 15.

Whether all of those employees actually lose their jobs depends on final state budget decisions by Gov. Gray Davis and how many district workers retire or quit before summer.

The news, delivered at last night's school board meeting hit an expectant crowd like news of a family death.

andquot;Oooh, gaaa,andquot; was the noise that erupted simultaneously from the crowd of about 250 parents, teachers, secretaries and maintenance workers with their families.

All cuts to staff and programs laid out last night are not final, but likely.

All 71 layoff notices will be sent to those on the list, just in case the layoffs are deemed necessary by the June 30 deadline for decision making.

It is the worst-case-scenario solution.

andquot;We're going to have to over-notify people, just in case,andquot; said District Superintendent Frank Lynch, who makes the recommendations for budget cuts to the school board for its final decision.

Lynch and the district's finance director, Rodney Jahn, drafted a two-phase plan to keep the district afloat while Gov. Gray Davis' state budget proposals threaten to take at least $3 million from Del Norte schools over the next two years.

The governor's budget has not been adopted by the Legislature and proposals to balance California's $34 billion budget deficit could change.

District officials drafted phase-one of their plan based on the governor's December proposals for fiscal year 2002-2003.

Phase-one of the recovery relies on the passage of a local parcel tax by voters, at least 18 layoffs, elimination of music programs to children in kindergarten through third-grade and a decrease in funding to school sports programs by 15 percent.

Phase-two was drafted in case the district must dig for another $500,000. That plan includes laying off 20 administrative employees and another 33 teachers and other staff.

andquot;Those are not recommendations, just options that may have to be considered,andquot; said Lynch.

Consolidation and closure of some of the district's 14 schools will also be considered - a move that will increase the number of students in each classroom.

A special board meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, to send layoff notices. Final layoff notices will be decided upon at a May 8 meeting.