I’ve recently discovered John Fensterwald’s blog The Educated Guess, which is a good source of education news through a California lens. Yesterday, he posted a nice summary of a new poll by the respected Public Policy Institute of California. The poll found that most Californians would pay higher taxes to support schools, and that an overwhelming majority opposed cutting education to balance the budget. Mr. Fensterwald says:
Gov. Schwarzenegger should keep those numbers in mind, because they’ll only go up in coming months, as school districts lay out next year’s severe budget cuts and, in March, when they send out layoff notices to teachers.
The governor can say, “No problem. No taxes needed, because I pledged in my State of the State address to protect K-12 schools.” But if that’s so, then why are districts startewide talking about, in various combinations, knocking five days off the school year, expanding class sizes in elementary school to 28 to 30, eliminating summer school and about every discretionary program left and asking staff to take additional pay cuts?
Why indeed? God help us if the Governor actually decides to CUT education!
As promised, the staff has made an electronic copy of last night’s budget presentation available. Download it here.
The presentation lists the Superintendent’s proposed cuts, detailing specific programs that will be cut, and the savings from each. It should help people gain a deeper understanding of what’s being proposed.
Supt. Garcia’s “thought for the evening” at last night’s meeting was a raw expression of his anger and dismay at being forced to propose the cuts that will be necessary for us to close our budget shortfall. Listen to it here.
In addition, the Superintendent penned an Op-Ed in today’s Chronicle, urging school districts to join in a a lawsuit against the state, charging that the state has failed to provide adequate funding for education and therefore has abdicated one of its central responsibilities.
Tonight’s meeting agenda was pretty packed with items, including a much-awaited update from the Superintendent on the $113 million budget shortfall announced last week, and a sometimes-contentious discussion on the spending plan for the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF). In addition, UESF members were out in force, wearing their blue shirts and doing their best to remind us that cuts to the classroom have a devastating impact on students and staff (not that we didn’t already know this fact, but it never hurts to repeat it). I don’t think UESF members really blame us for the crisis — they know it originated in Sacramento — but tonight they sent the message that we need to be as fair and as transparent as possible in our budgeting from here on out. “Sharing the pain” is a nice idea, but there are any number of ways to do that, and it’s easy to come to blows over the decision-making. If we can keep our partnership with the unions intact over the coming months, it will be better for our students in the long run.
A group of researchers at UCLA have completed a sobering study of the effect of the economic downturn on California schools and their students, based on extensive interviews with 87 principals across the state. The key findings in the study include:
–The recession has created acute new social needs for students attending a broad cross section of California public schools;
–California’s weak educational and fiscal infrastructure has limited the ability of schools to respond to these new needs, despite the extraordinary efforts of local educators;
–Conditions supporting teaching and learning have eroded;
–Many school programs and services previously viewed as essential (such as summer school) have been eliminated or cut back;
–Budget cuts have undermined efforts of schools to sustain improvement and reform;
–As school-by-school fundraising supplements inadequate budgets, opportunities for children in poor communities can fall further behind opportunities for children in wealthier communities. This has serious implications for attempts to close achievement gaps.
The study likens current conditions to what the state’s schools experienced during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the characterization is more apt than they know: California schools have not experienced funding cuts of this magnitude since–wait for it–the Great Depression.
I’m afraid Tuesday evening’s post on our looming $113 million deficit for 2010-11 and 2011-12 (combined) left a lot of people feeling depressed and worried. It is depressing, no question, and none of the options in front of the school district for closing the gap are at all palatable. Still, there are a few bright spots in the generally gloomy skies:
- Our funding for sports, libraries, arts and music (SLAM) is generally protected, because it is a set aside under the city budget. Next year’s SLAM funding is estimated to be $15 million even after the City pulls its 25 percent “trigger” (allowed because the City is facing its own budget crisis), and it funds music, art and P.E. teachers, programs and supplies at each school level, and librarians for district schools.
- Discussions with the Mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors continue over going to the voters to secure additional revenues to protect our local schools from the crisis in Sacramento. If these discussions are productive, and we can convince voters to pass a revenue measure, our budget shortfall would be reduced significantly.
- The district administration and United Educators of San Francisco are working together to see if we can find funds to offer a one-time retirement bonus to staff at the upper end of the pay scale. We saw a lower-than-normal number of teachers and paraprofessionals retire last year, so there’s a possibility that there are staff out there who are already considering retirement — this one-time bonus might sweeten the deal for those staff members. It would also lower our overall payroll and save some jobs of less-senior teachers and paraprofessionals.
- Discussions about the budget are happening earlier and more comprehensively than usual, in an effort to involve the community as broadly as possible in the decision-making. On Jan. 26 (this coming Tuesday), the Superintendent will offer a list of budget options under consideration, and has pledged that at least some of the worst decisions will be made before we have to send out our “March 15” letters informing staff that their jobs may be eliminated next year — hopefully decreasing the overall number of these awful letters.
- Finally, don’t forget that we could get a Race to the Top grant! For all my grousing about the questionable policy requirements RtTT contains, at the end of the day it would still be nice to have the money.
All of this isn’t much in the way of cheer, I know, but at least it’s something. And I have faith that we will come through this, somehow. Three years from now the schools will be standing, there will be learning going on, and hopefully, brighter skies ahead.
Well, the holiday weeks have been nice, with all the joy and lovely food and family time, but now it’s time to return to cold, hard, January-type reality. Tonight’s KTVU report on the state budget wasn’t about education — it focuses more on the plight of adults with severe disabilities and their families. Respite funds, meant to give caregivers a break a few times a month, are now in danger, along with many other state-funded supports these families depend on.
Get used to hearing more and more sad stories from deserving people who should not be subjected to the kinds of cuts we’re going to be experiencing. It’s going to be another difficult year.