California schools move closer to doomsday

On Tuesday Gov. Jerry Brown called off negotiations with Republican lawmakers that were aimed at putting the tax extension up for a statewide vote in June. This move pretty much crushes any chances of sparing public schools from even deeper cuts for the next school year.

“Each and every Republican legislator I’ve spoken to believes that voters should not have this right to vote unless I agree to an ever changing list of collateral demands,” Brown said in a statement posted on his website. Those demands were included in a nearly five-page list presented to Brown by Republican leaders and published by the Los Angeles Times. Brown said some of the proposals would worsen the state’s financial crisis and he will not support them.

“It is hard to articulate the depth and breadth of what this cut will mean,” said Michael Hanson, superintendent of Fresno Unified. Hanson and I were on the phone yesterday afternoon when he began receiving text messages telling him the budget talks were dead. He said the district has cut $88 million over the past three years – a 20 percent reduction – and now faces another $71 million in cuts for next year under what he calls “Plan B,” which may cost the district 522 teachers and 26 people in the central office.

It’s not the answer Hanson wanted, but it lets him start planning for 2011-12, and that’s what he and other superintendents asked for at a press conference Monday on the steps of the state Capitol, where, he said, they called on the Legislature to “tell us now; don’t drag this out into the next fiscal year.”

Tuesday’s announcement also took Debbie Look by surprise. The director of legislation for the California State PTA was on her way home from a meeting of the Education Coalition in Sacramento when she heard the news on the radio. Although the deadline for getting a measure on the June ballot was perilously late, Look said Coalition members “were still feeling like things were moving forward.”

Cuts are hard to figure

It’s not exactly clear how much of a hit schools will take if there is no tax extension or eleventh-hour miracle. For every education organization, group, and department there’s a slightly different set of numbers depending on what’s considered a cut. But there is some general consensus. Even if the tax extension passes and the Legislature doesn’t suspend Proposition 98, school funding will drop next year. “The governor’s budget understated its impact on public education,” said Rick Simpson,  Deputy Chief of Staff for Assembly Speaker John A. Perez. “They simply looked at the Proposition 98 minimum.”

What they didn’t take into account is a projected enrollment increase, another year without cost-of-living increases, and small growth in teachers’ salaries and benefits based on previously agreed-to contracts.

The estimates also vary widely on the magnitude of the next round of cuts if the  tax extension fails to get on the ballot or win voter support. It will be somewhere between $2 billion and $5 billion, depending on whether the Proposition 98 revenue limit is just reduced, or lawmakers also suspend Prop 98. But if education takes the same proportional hit as other programs and departments, at 40 percent of the budget that would be $4.8 billion or about an additional $900 per student. The impact on each district will vary, depending on the size of their reserves and how much one-time federal jobs money they carried over.

Bob Blattner, a longtime budget analyst who heads his own financial consulting company for California schools, wrote a memo for his clients in January, explaining that even though they may be hearing about additional cuts of $350 per student, they should really be prepared for an additional hit between $800 and $1300 per student. “We believe, however, that the age-old adage ‘Hope for the best and plan for the worst’ applies now more than ever,” wrote Blattner.

School Services of California, Inc., where Blattner used to work, offers similarly dire warnings. Vice presidents Robert Miyashiro and John Gray say taking another $5 billion from education would put next year’s funding level slightly above the 1999-2000 level. “Thus, if the state cuts K-12 education funding $5 billion from the current-year level, districts will be expected to educate students with 1999-00 funding levels while facing 2011-12 costs, an untenable expectation,” write Miyashiro and Gray.

But untenable is looking more plausible after Tuesday. “Much is at stake, and in the coming weeks I will focus my efforts on speaking directly to Californians and coming up with honest and real solutions to our budget crisis,” said Brown in his statement. His communications staff wouldn’t elaborate on what that means; however, one idea under discussion is gathering signatures to put the tax extension on the November ballot. But that may be too late to help schools that will have already laid off teachers and implemented their “Plan B” austerity measures. It also poses a thorny political dilemma. The current tax increases expire at midnight on June 30. Any vote after that is no longer an extension of the current taxes; it becomes a new tax increase, and that’s a much harder sell to voters.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

About Kathryn Baron

Kathryn Baron, co-writer of TOP-Ed (Thoughts On Public Education in California), has been covering education in California for about 15 years; most of that time at KQED Public Radio where her reports aired on The California Report as well as various National Public Radio programs. She also wrote for magazines and newspapers before going virtual as producer and editor at The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Kathy grew up in New York in a family of teachers. She moved to California for graduate school and after spending one sunny New Year’s Day riding her bicycle in the foothills, decided to stay. She and her husband live in Belmont. They have two children, one in college and one in high school.

18 thoughts on “California schools move closer to doomsday

  1. JIMH

    “I will focus my efforts on speaking directly to Californians and coming up with honest and real solutions to our budget crisis,” said Brown”
    Yeah Jerry, you do that…..Say, here’s an idea for you…..Why not just defer ALL Education Funding until NEXT YEAR……Hey, that would balance the California Budget……That’s about what I’d expect from our current State Government……..
    What’s all the fuss about anyway?  50% of the kids sitting in our classrooms, their parents couldn’t care less about education, well, except for the free breakfast and lunches and daytime baby sitting……..Cut teachers, cut school administrators, just keep those freebies coming……

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  2. Silver Spoon

    If I might shed some positive light on this dreary situation, it would be that the 50% of the students that do care will be leaving the public schools and seeking quality education in the private sector.  It has been brought to my attention from those that have done that already, that for what we have pledged to support our children’s public school through the fundraising and direct self-tax, we could pay for their education in a much more desirable setting.  Especially with the doomsday cry I am hearing from the media and bloggers.  With only half of the present population left, there should be plenty of money to maintain the minimum quality that has become accepted.

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  3. Mary Thompson

    Whatever happened to the “make do” attribute of Americans in times of crises whether externally caused or from internal mismanagement.   This writer is old enough to remember
    circumstances of WWII when schools’ resources were suddenly curtailed, and classrooms impacted with sudden influx of numbers of students resulting from people moving to the industrial areas of upper mid west states from the south, to work in the factories producing
    vehicles and planes.   There was a mentality of co operation, acceptance of circumstances in common, and accommodation by teachers and students.  Deep window sills frequently substituted for desks in crowded classrooms, schools opened an hour early,  to accommodate
    students from neighboring rural areas (lest they freeze in winter) who had to get to school by sharing rides with workers  of early factory shifts.  Specified patterns for changing classes were observed to facilitate increased numbers of students between classes to avoid interior “traffic jams”.  Lunch hours were staggered  over three hours simultaneously with class times for the cafeteria to  accommodate everyone, etc., etc., etc.      Arriving at school while it was still dark of the morning,  my window sill desk in physics class, arriving home after dark when my “ride” had to work overtime, comprise  fond memories, which allowed the privilege of qualifying to attend
    college to earn a bachelor of science degree.   Our lives weren’t ruined.

    Come on folks, if education is really important, and it is, sacrificing can become an exercise
    in discipline.  There can be satisfaction of overcoming circumstances and making the best of what is possible.   Somewhere along the way, that has been lost or diluted,  replaced by a sense of entitlement with little manifestation of gratitude.  

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  4. Kimberley

    What you’ve described is how the schools have subsisited since I moved here from Maryland 10 years ago.  Stripped to the bone with the removal or reduction of the arts, sports, science lab equipment, teachers, teacher aides, libraries and support systems for struggling students.  The problem is these kids need a 21st Century education, not one from the 1940′s.  That was a time when a high school diploma could earn one a middle class existence.  Since 2000 over 40,000 factories have closed or moved overseas, taking away solid middle class jobs for high school graduates.  Today in CA approximately 25% of students don’t graduate from high school and, as expected, with all the cuts to education resources, that number is growing.   Only 30% of students are prepared for college and are competing with students from Europe and Asia who attend school well over 200 days per year as compared to CA’s reduction to 175 days.  So, we can call these draconian cutbacks good for the soul, or call out what is really going on – amputation of our vital economic engine and further destruction of the middle class.

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  5. Jason

    What I have been wondering a lot lately is how the Republican politicians hide their horns.  I mean, they don’t all have long enough hair to cover them, do they?  It seems their goals are pretty clear these days, though – destroy public education at all levels, undo healthcare reform – ensuring that at least 60 million people will have no care at all, and undo the social net – even for children and those most in need, all while making sure tax breaks for the wealthiest are preserved.  There is NO flexibility on that point, to be sure!
    I think the Republican party looks at the income disparity in places like Brazil and has jealousy in its eyes.  “How can we make it so that millions of uneducated, unhealthy people are nearly starving in the streets and willing to work in factories for a dollar a day?” they wonder.  Well, they are on their way to their goal with a turn of events like this: undercutting public education across the state without even giving people a chance to vote.
    Hmm… but I find myself wondering what on earth they do with those long horns when they are making speeches.   I can catch a quick glimpse of them on FOX news once in a while, but most American’s don’t seem able  to see them at all.  Poor and sick folks stagger out of Walmarts and McDonald’s all over the country to vote Republican every election.   I guess they’ll figure it all out when the public  schools are destroyed, higher education and health care are only for the wealthy who are driven around in bullet-proof cars by their servants, and average people are thrown out in the streets by the millions begging for a chance to work for a dollar a day.  Wait, does that sound more like hell or Brazil?  Or both?

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  6. Regis

    Take a look at the SacBee report on the Federal Funds kicked out to this state in FY ending June-10.  Nearly $35 Billion Dollars for Education and what do you get?  You get great results, like the LAUSD, which has a $142 Million Dollar Deficit, a 50% dropout rate and 670,000 mostly ‘low-income minority’ students.  Many of you pillorize the Republicans, but say nothing of the Democrats who are willing to spend, spend and spend some more.   None of you address the ‘Entitlement’ spending, but here’s a  fact, when the number of ‘Tax Takers’, exceed the TaxPayers, then you’ve got a problem.   The top 15% of the Taxpayers in the state ($75K and up) PAY 85% of the taxes!  Most of the population, does not pay for, nor do what they produce, even gets close to making up, what they take out.

    Most of your students are getting free breakfast, free lunches and after school snacks, and summer school nutrition to boot.  The Feds spent $1,756,976,317 dollars on the ‘Child Nutrition Cluster’ here in California.  That doesn’t include the $6 Billion for the SNAP Cluster or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’.  Or WIC  (Spcl. Supp. Nutriti0n Program for Women, Infants and Children,another entitlement, which was over a billion dollars.  And there’s numerous others.  How about a Billion to Foster Care – Title IV?  Or 1.2 Billion to Children Health Insurance.  Take a look at the demographics sometime, I have.   Have you?

    Let’s keep going.  How about the $131 Million on the Migrant Education Program?  Or the $375 Million on the laughable “Improving Teacher Quality State Grants”?  I’ve seen the ‘new math’ textbooks and I remember owning a 50′s mathbook that taught you just about everything you need to know in just a hundred pages and it all applied to the real world, unlike what I see now.

    Get used to it, because we’ve chased out over 50% of the largest employers in this state over the last twenty years, thanks to our onerous taxes and regulations.  Good luck with the ‘Green Jobs’.  Like how many guys does it take to take care of a wind farm or solar farm?  Not a whole lot, huh?  Also, College isn’t a path for everyone.  NCLB is a disaster too.  Nuff said and thanks for reading.

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  7. Ariel Paisley

    It is time to place the burden of reduced school funding squarely on the shoulders of those who care the most, the parents.  Let’s see which districts have the courage to shorten the school year  and leave thousands of parents looking for childcare.  It won’t take long to make the majority of Californians beg for tax increases to keep the schools open for more days each year.  Maybe Jerry Brown is “crazy-like-a-fox”.  How many parents will support the republican party once the real purpose of schools (babysitting) has been compromised.

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  8. Allen

    I agree with what you have to say but California schools are run by unions and the only discipline they care about is making sure their members storm school board meetings and legislators demanding more and more money.  Give California workers the right to say no to compulsory union dues and we’ll see what a real democracy looks like and reduce these criminal unions to the powerless shells they should be.

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