Fixing a precariously balanced budget means deep cuts to the California education system, leaving no job or program safe.Written by Margaret Yau
17 October 2011
A series of foolish economic and political missteps has led the Californian educational system — including the San Diego Unified School District — to the edge of a precipice.
It’s not just teaching jobs and art enrichment programs that are at stake; if the school districts don’t get their act together come December, the financial stability of the state could cave under billions of dollars in deficit.
The problems here are many. Let us count the ways.
One. Over the last four years, the state’s education system has seen $15 billion worth of cuts in education, forcing school administrations to scramble to patch up the gaps. SDUSD alone has endured a $450 million budget cut since 2007-08. The impact — a 15 percent reduction in faculty and support staff — has been felt throughout the district.
Two. More recently, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state’s “balanced budget” in July that predicted a $2 billion revenue windfall that was unlikely to happen. Months later, it has become readily apparent that this $2 billion windfall will not be met come December, a scenario that would trigger $1.5 billion in education cuts statewide — $30 million for SDUSD alone.
Three. One proposed solution is to shorten the school year by seven full days. However, the school year has already been reduced by five days due to budget cuts last year. Cutting the school year by another seven days is impossible for nearly half of California schools, including SDUSD, because of closed teaching unions.
Four. But in spite of these dire consequences, the school board has managed to make its situation even more alarming. Despite the fact that employee compensation already makes up 90 percent of the school district’s budget, the board still managed to grant across the board 7.2 percent raises for the 2012-13 school year.
Another set of 3.8 percent raises — based on years on the job — is still quite in place. These raises, based on the idea that state-funded revenue would continue to rise year by year, are part of an outdated practice that will contribute to bring down the school district.
Teachers and their unions argue that they have sacrificed enough over the past few years — that cuts should be made elsewhere. And though that may be true, the fact of the matter remains that SDUSD — and every school district across the state — must make concessions across the board.
Teachers are undoubtedly important, but a financially stable school is equally, if not more important.
Due to such strict union laws, schools may be left with the rather savory option of trimming costs in other places. This might require laying off custodians, cafeteria workers and other essential support staff, an option that may have dire consequences for the school district.
Asking union members to forgo raises is a feasible solution, if only temporary, option.
Financially solvent solutions are few and far between, and the clock is ticking towards a worst-case scenario of a $100 million dollar projected deficit in the 2012-13 school year, according to SDUSD Superintendent Bill Kowba.
Even without the mid-year budget cut, the district is looking at a $30 million dollar budget gap.
Solving this potential catastrophe will take far more than petitions to the governor or pointing fingers. The school board, the community and teacher unions alike must face the reality of the long road ahead and make concessions accordingly.