The Town Hall budget forum in San Diego High’s Library drew over 100 concerned parents on Thursday Night. School Board interim Superintendent Bill Kowba and Board member Richard Barrera made a power point presentation that outlined the funding shortfalls faced by local educators with expected State contributions for the 2010 fiscal year.
The bottom line, as presented in this meeting, is that ALL of the cuts in programs that have been bandied about in the news media and various on-line discussions will not cover the expected deficit.
Sports programs, arts & music curricula, magnet schools, bussing, libraries, school nurses, classroom size limits, magnet schools, many instructional and administrative positions-along with benefits provided to district employees-can all be eliminated and the district will still be short of balancing its budget for the next fiscal year.
Reductions in school funding over the last three years have already taken a toll. Experienced educators have fled the district in droves (over 1000 last year). The administrative staff for local schools has been decimated, meaning that teachers are now diverting their efforts from classroom activities to do such mundane tasks are making copies and completing State-mandated paperwork. For the San Diego Unified School District, this has meant a reduction of nearly 20 percent in school funding over three years, while the enrollment has increased by nearly 2 percent. These reductions add up to $180 million over the last three years-and local schools are facing another$16 million shortfall before the end of the 2009-10 school year.
And it’s going to get worse. California State budget analysts are now estimating that next year’s cuts could be as high as $200 million for San Diego schools.
There were lots of parents at the Town Hall who’d come to fight for individual programs that they perceived might be on the chopping block for next year. The likelihood that ALL those programs were facing elimination seemed beyond their grasp, in part, because of past School District claims of impending cuts that proved to be premature. Other parents in attendance whose kids programs were cut last year were sad reminders of what’s likely to come next year.
While the SD Unified School Board’s dismal record at predicting the consequences of past funding reductions has skeptics wondering if they are once again simply crying “wolf”, a closer examination of the State of California’s projected revenue shortfalls does seem to indicate that there really are hard times ahead for education. (Go here to see the figures.)
The second part of the Town Hall budget forum-and most of the evening-consisted of getting the crowd divided into smaller working groups who were directed to envision and articulate pro-active solutions to the looming budgetary crisis. The divided nature of support for education reared its ugly head here, as proponents for individual programs and schools voiced their concerns. The isolation of these groups and individuals demonstrated the need for co-ordination and communication along with a unified agenda aimed at opposing all reductions in State funding for education.
The political challenges facing area schools are daunting. The only real solution is to increase funding, yet the Governor is defining the current revenue shortfalls as a “spending” crisis; slightly more one third of the State’s Legislators are pledged to oppose any steps that might be taken that could resolve the shortfalls. This representative minority will likely remain an effective deterrent to continuing educational programs unless parental groups can make their voices heard in a manner that implies that political winds are changing around the State. After all, the one thing that politicians all try to excel at is getting re-elected (or, in these days of term limits, continuing their philosophy of governance).
The arguments relating to budgets need to be re-framed, and quickly. The cost of education is not about “spending”; it’s an investment. Each dollar spent on education returns three in future taxpayer dollars. The cost per pupil of education in California has fallen from slightly less than $6000 per year to under $5000, putting the State on a par with such bastions of educational excellence as Mississippi and Alabama. Further cuts in education will increase the dropout rate in high schools, which will in turn lead to crime rates increasing. (Consider that the average inmate in a California correctional institution costs taxpayers over $60,000 per year!) And then there is the matter of having a competitive and competent workforce as a bulwark against further exportation of jobs in the face of globalization.
The forces that stand opposed any increase in State funding for education are deeply entrenched and hide their true agendas through a bewildering array of misinformation, deceit, and a core cadre of voters that have bought into their basic premise that doom and gloom are just around the corner unless further reductions in government programs occur. The surest example of this in the San Diego area is the editorial and news policies of the Union-Tribune Newspaper; they have built their entire point of view on the premise that the teacher’s unions are at the root of all evil. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply ignored, as was demonstrated when the paper failed to send a reporter to cover the San Diego High meeting.
If you care about the future of education in San Diego, now is the time to get involved. The Governor will be sending his budget proposal to the Legislature in January; school budgets must by law be based on the available funding in that plan. The school district must inform employees of impending layoffs by March. So all the phone calls and letters you can send supporting education (do it early & often!) over the next couple of months could make a critical difference.
E-mail or call every legislator from the San Diego area and the Governor to tell them your concerns about cuts to education funding. We need a united San Diego effort to pressure the Governor and legislature. Here’s the link for contact information with the Governor and local legislators, along with a rather meek and mild suggested letter. (Personally, I think something along the lines of “vote correctly or suffer the consequences” sounds much better.)