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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Good News Bad News For Davis Schools

CTA Launches Campaign Against Class Size Reduction Flexibility

If you read through the numbers reported on Thursday, Davis Schools will likely given some measure of flexibility survive without major teacher layoffs at least through 2010-11. The district got some more good news perhaps when the House passed the stimulus plan that will contain for schools.

Davis will get roughly $2.7 million over the next two years. That includes money for construction and modernization, some for programs for low-income students, and nearly $1.8 million for special education programs. Woodland stands to get far more based on a higher percentage of lower-income students than Davis, but Woodland is also far worse off than Davis.

However, the Senate still needs to approve its own version of the stimulus in the coming week. When it does, there is expected to be considerably less money for the district in it and the reconciliation will mean that Davis will get something, but not what the House version would give it.

Meanwhile, if we go back and look at the budget projections for the district, one of the big caveats was whether or not the district would get Class Size Reduction Flexibility. Allowing the district to raise class size from 20 to 22 would allow it a saving of nearly $1 million per year, which means $2 million by 2010-11.

During his presentation on Tuesday, Bruce Colby suggested that of all the proposals in the Governor's budget, a change in class size reduction or CSR, was most problematic.

Based on a teleconference with CTA President David Sanchez on Friday, I would suggest that actually overstates the possibility of CSR changes being implemented. The CTA is going to war against flexibility in the use of CSR.

Mr. Sanchez said:
"What's most offensive is that eliminating class-size reduction won't save the state one dime. Districts will continue to receive that funding from the state, but won't have to spend that money on class-size reduction, or frankly, even in the classroom."
Let me make two caveats to what I am about to say. First, I am very familiar with the data from Davis' perspective but less so around the state. Everything I know about Davis is that the flexibility is what Davis needs to survive the next two years without cutting teachers or programs.

Second, in general I am supportive of the teachers unions, but I think in this case they are misguided.

Right now, district need flexibility in the money that they receive and we need to trust local districts to know how best to spend it rather than Sacramento.

Also at the press conference was Alicia Gaddis who is chairwoman of the Sacramento branch of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (you might be more familiar with their acronym, ACORN, they do more than just register voters however).
"I can assure you that the districts in poorer neighborhoods will be the first to increase classroom sizes, [which] means the achievement gap will widen."
I would like to see the analysis of how CSR funds would impact that. For Davis, 80% of the money the district spends goes directly to the classroom. The question is where in the classroom it needs to go.

One of the concerns expressed by the CTA and others is that CSR was a process that took years to create and build up. However, relaxing the requirements for a few years until this budget situation is not going to destroy the program.

The bottom line here is that if CSR is left in place, school district like Davis are going to have to eat into their reserves more and eventually they will have to cut their teachers. Across the state schools are cutting their teachers. The only question is whether they can have the flexibility to simply use attrition and retirement to balance their books or whether they will have to deeply cut into HS and other secondary programs to survive.

It's a tough call right now, but if given the choice, most school districts would prefer greater flexibility during challenging times and then they can prioritize their spending needs.

The CTA is unfortunately showing a general distrust for school districts to make these choices.

In the meantime, CSR flexibility is probably now DOA. The CTA this weekend is launching a major ad campaign urging Californians to call the Governor and their legislators to oppose the proposal. Legislators already were expected to remove the proposal from the budget, this is just the coup de grace on that.

For Davis, that means a couple of million in flexibility for the next few years that is gone. The federal stimulus if Davis ends up seeing any of it when the Senate finishes their work will mitigate some but not all of that.

---David M. Greenwald reporting