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California Schools in Financial Bind

posted Jul 6, 2011, 12:46 PM by Gary Jones   [ updated Aug 12, 2011, 12:43 PM ]

Another state budget cycle places an ever-increasing financial burden on our public schools to meet the educational needs of students. The undeniable fact is: Public school funds have become the trough at which government officials feed.

Through Proposition 98, the voters of the state set a minimum guarantee for funding education. The purpose, language, and formulas of Prop 98 are constantly ignored, manipulated, and reinterpreted to prevent the full funding, or even honest funding, of public schools.

Not only are schools receiving cuts in funding well below the guarantee (20%), but the state actually defers (borrows) cash from the schools to fund the state’s debt.

Our government officials remind me of the Popeye cartoon character, Wimpy. “I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” The Wimpys of the world keep eating the hamburgers and Tuesday never comes!

So, what are local school district boards and superintendents facing now, besides the insidious manipulation of Prop 98, ongoing cuts to state aid, and greater deferrals of cash? The governor and legislature have rewritten the law to:

1.       Reduce the required savings amount for schools to one percent (1%),

2.       Force schools to ignore the potential mid-year cuts in their financial reports,

3.       Prevent schools from reducing staff to prepare for reduced revenues and cash, and

4.       Strip County Superintendent’s of several financial oversight provisions.

Sounds like our schools are being goaded to be as reckless as the state and many local governments have been: Don’t save, Don’t cut, Don’t prepare, and Don’t report.

On the local level, we have lived in a relative bubble. The districts and county office of education were extraordinarily well prepared for horrible financial times. Even so, reduced funding has affected our education system:

1.       Two regular schools have been closed,

2.       Four alternative education schools have been closed,

3.       Class sizes are larger and fewer courses are offered,

4.       Summer school programs were eliminated, and

5.       Field trips and sports trips have been reduced or eliminated.

The administrators, teachers, and support staff continue to take on more duties in order to provide the best educational opportunities for our students. Our school leaders face unpredictable times ahead with fewer tools and less cash to address future challenges.

As County Superintendent, I am heartened by the character and resolve of individuals within our schools who work in a cooperative manner toward solutions and higher standards of achievement for our students.