Public education in State of Emergency

By Robert W. Graeff, Ed.D., Donna Braye-Romero, and Betsy Bargo

As part of a statewide campaign, the superintendent of the Ramona Unified School District, the president of the Ramona Teachers Association, and the president of Chapter 733 of the California School Employees Association are jointly encouraging the Ramona community to support a current legislative effort to support our local schools.

In January, Governor Jerry Brown released his budget proposal for the 2011-12 fiscal year, attempting to solve a $26 billion shortfall in the state’s $84 billion budget. A substantial part of his plan was to persuade the Legislature to allow the state’s voters to decide on a proposal to extend several current tax measures to buoy the state’s income and to avoid cutting nearly one-third of the state’s current programs. Within that proposal, our local Ramona schools were advised to brace for a $2.1 million cut to our own $46 million budget program.

Since that time, the Legislature has not acted and the governor is now preparing to release a revised budget plan later this month which will likely enact the deepest cuts to public services in State history.

What is at stake?

Unless the Legislature supports the governor’s January plan and extends four existing tax measures (now without voter input), public schools will lose an additional $400 to $600 per student above the current projected cuts. In Ramona, this additional hit could mean as much as $3.5 million additional losses in state revenue. Due to declining resources over the past several years, the district has already cut or eliminated the following programs for students: Gifted and Talented Education, Class Size Reduction for Ninth Grade, summer school for Grades K-8, oral health support, Adult Education, and new textbook adoptions. Class sizes in upper elementary classrooms are already approaching 40 students per class and high school core classes are over 40 in multiple classrooms.

Unless the Legislature approves the governor’s January budget proposal, the district will lay off 14 additional probationary and temporary classroom teachers, eliminate elementary classroom music, reduce the hours and/or months of more than 30 support staff, shorten the school year for all students, and enter into a challenging series of negotiations with employees to consider significant reductions to salaries and benefits.

What’s different this year?

The community has heard this news before. The past two years, our schools have been faced with deep cuts of a similar magnitude. Accordingly, staff members have been laid off, classrooms sizes have increased, and many important programs have been eliminated. To prevent even deeper cuts, however, both our federal and state governments rushed in at the 11th hour and propped up the state’s budget with one-time bailouts. This spring, Congress has made it very clear that no such assistance to states or public education will be forthcoming. Likewise, political leaders in Sacramento have indicated that they cannot agree on extending existing taxes and are currently considering an “all cuts” budget to state programs and public education. More to the point, the state controller has already publicly recommended closing all schools next year by as much as eight weeks to curb expenses.

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