This has been a bad week for school board members in California and across the country — starting with a terrifying incident where an desperate member of the public threatened school board members in Panama City, Fla. with a loaded gun. Here’s the video:
Reader, I promise never to sneak up behind an armed gunman and hit him with my purse (school board member Ginger Littleton is being lauded for her bravery but acknowledges her act was “stupid”); I have asked Superintendent Garcia to simply dive under the desk rather than argue with said gunman if we are ever — cross your fingers — in a similar situation. Still, the bravery and calm under pressure shown by all of these public officials in a terrifying situation is nothing short of amazing. The whole incident is sobering in its depiction of the desperation and hopelessness some people are feeling today — the easy availability of guns makes such an incident possible. At almost every Board meeting, people come before us who are feeling very angry, desperate and hopeless — I am not sure we are fully prepared for what could happen if one of them were armed.
I fear what we saw in Panama City — the gunman was reportedly bipolar, and upset because his wife had been laid off by the school district — is just the tip of the iceberg. Last night school officials in Mt. Diablo Unified, just to our northeast, contemplated the desperate steps of closing up to seven schools, and the district is asking its employees for millions of dollars in wage and benefit concessions. District officials told the public that without the proposed cuts, they are on the road to bankrupcty and state takeover.
The same day, Governor-elect Jerry Brown had nothing but bad news to impart in a well-publicized education budget summit in Los Angeles:
The Democrat called education and public safety the pillars of a civilized society but warned that the magnitude of the deficit problem facing California is “unprecedented in my lifetime” and that the state must prepare for drastic changes.
“I can’t promise there won’t be more cuts, because there will be,” he told a gathering of school administrators, teachers union representatives and other public education officials from across the state during a special budget forum in Los Angeles.
Brown implored those at the forum, which focused on education spending, to “please sit down” when they see his budget proposal on Jan. 10. “If you’re in your car, fasten your seat belt. It’s going to be a rough ride, but we’ll get through it,” he said.
Insiders say that the cuts being contemplated for the 2011-12 budget could reach $500- $750 per student — which could translate to an additional $20-$35 million reduction for San Francisco Unified (that would be on top of the $113 million in cuts we made this past year, which reduced the length of the school year by four days in 2010-11 and in 2011-12, along with many other painful cuts).
So what I think is that we are in for a very difficult year — maybe even more difficult than the one we have almost completed. In the words of our aging diva Governor-elect (channeling aging diva Bette Davis in “All About Eve”): Fasten your seat belts.
In other news: I was suffering from some kind of virus last night, so I missed the Board meeting (which is why there’s no recap). But yeah: the Board voted to slash transportation by several million dollars (the cuts will be implemented gradually between 2011-12 and 2012-13). I wrote at length about the proposal in my recap of the December 13 meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment.
The Board also voted to deny a charter to the C-5 International School, which was seeking a Reggio-Emilia inspired K-8 school.