Editor: The following is another in a series about budgetary cut-backs at the San Diego Unified School District by our-man-on-the-scene Doug Porter. All the public schools that service Ocean Beach will be affected: OB Elementary, Dana Middle School, Correia Middle School, and Point Loma High. It is incumbent for OB residents to stay on top of this issue, and thanks to Doug, the OB Rag is attempting to do just that.
I attended the School Board meeting last night (February 9th) and listened to the reports given by the district staff about finding ways to fund their priorities for San Diego Unified Schools. These priorities, which emerged through public input, both at Board meetings and through a series of Town Halls held during the final months of 2009 were:
1. Raising the achievement level of all students, including gifted kids, English learners and students with disabilities
2.A full curriculum including art, music, athletics, career technical education, programs in Old Town and Balboa Park, activities and classes that will make kids competitive for college admission and eligible for the University of California system
3.Diversity, integration and school choice, such as magnet schools
4. A safe and supportive environment including vice principals, police, counselors, nurses and instructional supplies
5. Maintaining current class sizes
6. Classroom technology to help children learn
The bottom line of staff reports given last night amounted to this: there isn’t enough money in the State’s proposed budget contribution to fund these priorities. Not even close. The $39 million in potential savings identified in those reports doesn’t plug the hole left by the $91 million in cuts the State is proposing.
Here are some of the money saving measures outlined last night, as reported over at Voice of San Diego:
1. Suspending educational programs in Balboa Park, Old Town and Camp Palomar for three years.
2. Consolidating two dozen departments in the central office, most notably the gifted and talented department; its services would fall under the deputy superintendent.
3. Cutting back on “over formula teachers” — those who are added to schools even though their numbers don’t require the school district to provide them.
4. Trimming transportation by not busing students to Balboa Park and Old Town.
5. Closing a center for teachers to get instructional materials.
6. De-centralizing programs for students who need reading assistance and for parent involvement.
7. Phasing out a program that supports beginning teachers.
Hundreds of teachers showed up last night, called out by the SDEA to protest a proposed 8% reduction in pay. They’re essentially being asked to work for one month a year for free and and aren’t happy about it. A vigorous picket line marched outside, urging passers-by to honk in support of teachers—the noise was deafening at times, despite a cold drizzle.
Dozens of parents, teachers and students testified before the school board, alternately pleading, demanding and cajoling in support of various programs that appear to be threatened by the looming budget cuts. It was impossible not be moved by the dedication and passion they showed for their programs and public education in general. It’s also impossible to see how many of these programs can be spared on the cutting table as the school district’s budget is hashed over the next month.
When it’s all said and done, the School Board will have no choice but to play the hand that’s been dealt them by the State of California. Those who want to save their programs will have to look to Sacramento for salvation. California’s financial plan for next year is still a proposed budget.
And here’s the really bad part: those programs that aren’t axed this year in San Diego’s schools, will most likely be eliminated next year as the State careens towards a funding cliff caused by the cessation of stimulus funding. For San Diego Unified, that’s another $50 million whack that’s just around the corner.
Looking towards the State legislature to restore education funding is no simple matter. Politicians on both sides of the political aisle, while decreeing their “support” for education, are quick to point out the decline in revenues that California is experiencing as a result of the recession. Some legislators claim that providing additional revenues in the form of tax increases or additional fees will hurt job creation. Others are too busy collecting campaign donations from special interest groups with other priorities. (The campaign donation cycle during the budget negotiating process is simply disgusting: it’s like many of our elected representative set up–figuratively speaking–cash registers outside their offices during June and July.)
There IS time to change the budgeting process; to redefine the conversation that takes place in our State Capitol so that the public’s interest is better served. Want to save our schools? Join with us at Educate for the Future.. We’re parents, students, teachers, principles and business people that believe that California’s economic future requires that our schools provide nothing less that a blue ribbon education for our children. We’ll be talking about steps you can take in the coming weeks.