One thing just about everyone agreed last night--no one had seen so many students at the Community Chambers. The fire marshal locked the doors to the main chambers. The hallway outside was filled to capacity. They opened the room next door and it was filled. People, almost all of them students, flooded the corridors and the patio. One had to park down the street. It was an amazing site.
Inside was a sad picture. A picture of inevitability. For almost two and a half hours, the Davis Joint Unified School Board went back and forth discussing the possibilities and the probabilities and numbers. Oh those numbers. There just aren't enough of them. Or too many of them, depending on your perspective.
We learned earlier this week that Da Vinci High School faced a possibility of 9 of its 12 teachers being on the layoff list. An occurrence that would obviously decimate the school.
Last night we learned the consequences if the school district did not make over $4 million in cuts. Associate Yolo County Superintendent Linda Legnitto with Superintendent Jorge Ayala looking on, laid out in very stark, very real, and very cold terms exactly what a lack of action by the Davis School Board would mean. It would be that Davis Joint Unified would lose control of its financial affairs. It would prevent the School District from taking on new debt without approval from the voters. It would prevent them from applying or being eligible for various monies. It would in all likelihood lead the County take over most operations. In short, we would lose local control of our schools.
Unfortunately last night, we also learned the consequence of making such deep cuts. There are some 280 students at Da Vinci which has become a magnet for technology and students who are unique. One by one the vast majority of those students flooded the chambers and spoke from their heart. One by one, the cold hard truth sunk in deeper and deeper. This is going to be a devasting loss.
When you think about it, whether it is Da Vinci High cuts, whether it is foreign languages, whether it is music, whether it is programs that aid at-risk kids, the bottom line is that you are cutting programs that for some kids mean the difference between education and not education. Between success and failure. Every kid is different. What inspires a kid varies. What keeps a kid interested and engaged depends on the kid. What makes Davis unique is the variety of programs that it offers to keep students engaged in their education and when those programs are taken away many kids will become at-risk.
The worst part of these cuts are that they are deep, painful, and have the air of inevitability. We cannot merely rail against the County, the Board of Education, the School District, and hope to make things change. We cannot blame the boogie man and demand better. There is no bad guy here. There are mistakes to be sure. But the board in this case is doing what it has to do. And that's the worst part about it. It is a helpless feeling. The worst thing in the world was watching those kids sitting in the audience and you could literally see their hearts ripped out of them and you knew there was literally nothing that you could do to stop it.
That said, all is not completely lost. As the board emphasized, by March 15, 2008 they were required to lay out these cuts--send out the layout notices and show the county that they had over $4 million, it is closer to $4.3 million in cuts.
However, things can go back some now that this has occurred. The budget will take a long time to hash out, Ms. Legnitto suggested not until at least the summer would we know, but there is a good chance that the state cuts will not be as steep.
In the meantime, the Davis Schools Foundations has already raised over $15,000 and their goal is to raise $2.8 million. They are sponsoring a "Dollar a Day" fundraising campaign, which for laymen would be $365 donations (or perhaps $366 since it is leap year). For more information people are encourage to go to their website at http://www.davisschoolsfoundation.org.
Should their efforts to raise $2.8 million be successful, it could help bridge the gap. The problem of course is that this too is just one-time money. And the budget picture for next year is not figuring to be any better, in fact, there might need to be another $600,000 in cuts.
There was talk of another parcel tax. But the deadline for June is today. So that would obviously be out of the question. That puts November as a possibility. But would the voters approve another parcel tax just a year after they renewed the last one? That seems like a lot to ask the voters. We are probably talking about another $100 per year to cover everything. It is tough to imagine. Then again, it is tough to imagine $4 million in cuts.
There is no doubt that yesterday was the low point among low points for many in this community and on that board. Gina Daleiden, who called in from Los Angeles from her visit to the Museum of Tolerance emphasized how difficult a call this was and that this was not what she came to the board to do.
One has to sympathize with our new Superintendent James Hammond, who finds himself thrust in the firing line. Hopefully the coming weeks bring better news, until then, we will have to bunker down and ride out this storm.
---Doug Paul Davis reporting