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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Schools Across the Region Still Face Budget Problems

We learned a week and a half ago that the Davis Schools had adverted a catastrophe in terms of cutbacks of over a hundred teachers, and draconian cuts to programs and even the closure of schools.

The Davis Joint Unified School Board had achieved that based on the strong work that the Davis' School Foundation had done in raising over $1.7 million in order to buy back teachers. In addition, the May revise to the Governor's budget was far less harsh to education funding.

Nevertheless, there was a big article in Monday's Sacramento Bee that schools have still come up short in the Governor's latest budget.
"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's May budget proposal gives more money to schools than he suggested in January, and meets the minimum guarantee schools are owed under state law. And his latest proposal increases school spending next year by $200 million over this year – but it's an amount education advocates say is paltry compared with their needs."
For example, the latest proposal does not take into account inflation--things like the rising cost of gasoline, health care, and teacher raises. As a result schools across the region are having to make cuts.

Reading the Sacramento Bee article, you see some of the same things happening across the region as happened in Davis. Programs are cut. Parents and students protest the cutting of programs. Teachers are put on the block to be cut. Classes are cut back on in an effort not to lay off as many teachers.

For instance Elk Grove:
Elk Grove Unified took another tack. Originally, the district proposed laying off kindergarten and high school teachers and making classes bigger. But after a firestorm of opposition from parents of kindergartners, it is keeping small classes for its youngest students and increasing class size only for high schoolers. The district will lay off 50 teachers at its high schools, for a savings of $1.6 million.

Elk Grove Unified is also getting rid of all teaching coaches, to cut another $1.9 million from its budget. The 28 coaches work with teachers on their classroom techniques. Associate Superintendent Richard Odegaard said the extra training they provide is one reason the district's students are meeting No Child Left Behind's test score targets.

"Getting rid of the coaches – that's like eating your seed corn," he said. "They're part of the reason we've had success."
Meanwhile Natomas has been more innovative. They have trimmed their budget without laying off any teachers. First they postponed opening their new middle school, saving $1.2 million.

But the more interesting thing they are doing is improving the food they offer in hopes that more kids will buy lunch at school, thus reducing the amount of money needed by the district to keep the cafeteria afloat.
Natomas is also trying to save money on school lunches by improving the food it offers at its high schools. The hope is that with tastier choices, more kids will buy lunch and offset the money the district now spends to keep cafeterias afloat. The district is looking at opening Mexican or Italian food stations at Natomas High.

"More students will simply buy lunch," said Superintendent Steve Farrar. "We're hoping (they) will not bring lunch from home."
Tough times for all, but as we see Davis is not unique in this regard.

Cuts and fundraising work in the short term. Districts like Davis might be able to raise taxes to continue to provide high level of services, but the state really needs to look more closely at means by which they can divorce funding from the ebbs and flows of the economy. And they need to find a way to allow districts more easily to raise local revenues.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting