BUDGET CUTS IN EMPIRE SCHOOLS: Empire Union School District trustees Thursday were presented with package of $2.4 million in cuts they'll most likely make at their June meeting when they adopt a 2008-09 budget. The trimming covers all areas of the district, including teachers, counselors, maintenance, district administration and special education, and is equal to about 10 percent of the district's budget. Trustee Nicholas Bavaro likened the cuts to amputations. Employee ranks are being downsized through attrition, with a handful of layoffs, and responsibilities and funding are being shifted to find the best way to do more with less. Six people are losing their jobs -- a custodian, an account technician, three special education aides and a library/media services assistant. A teachers union representative told the board Thursday that plans to transfer funding for employees, programs or materials from one account to another amounts to a "shell game."
STEM CELL PROGRAM GETS FUNDS: The University of California at Merced's young stem cell research program got a big boost this week when the university won approval for a $4.36 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. University researchers say they'll use the funds to help build a $7.5 million stem cell instrumentation foundry. That's a facility that would create customized devices to allow researchers to gather information about the conditions and environments that cause stem cells to differentiate into other types of cells. UC Merced officials hope to build an 8,000-square-foot facility at Castle Airport within the next two years. Officials haven't decided how to fund the rest of the foundry. The CIRM approved 12 major facilities grants for approximately $271 million; each of the UC's 10 universities received funding. The largest grant to a single campus will go to Stanford University for $43.6 million.