19 May Cutback Assignment Incomplete (CA)

May 19, 2010

By: Rachel Gross
Source: New York Times

The school year may be wrapping up, but local school districts are still working to complete a difficult assignment: hammering out their budgets for next year, under the pressure of ongoing state budget cuts and financial uncertainty.

Back in January, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promised to spare education as he crafted next year’s state bu dget proposal. In his revision to the budget released last week, higher education systems, like the University of California and California State University, received boosts in state support while K-12 schools gained nothing, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. Support from the state’s general fund for the K-12 system was $35.1 billion in the fiscal year that ends next month, down from $39.4 billion the previous year.

In response, many school districts in the Bay Area are laying off teachers, implementing furlough days and increasing class sizes. Like the state, their completed 2010-11 budgets are due July 1.

Here’s how some school districts in San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Clara are cutting back:

San Francisco Unified School District

Facing a daunting two-year $113 budget deficit, the San Francisco district had turned to sending pink slips to hundreds of teachers to make ends meet. However, their school board voted last week to rescind half of the 701 slips that went out in March, with hopes of further reducing that number to below 200 if they can reach an official agreement with teachers’ unions by the end of the month, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The district is asking all employees to accept a minimum of four furlough days next year, while eliminating paid sabbaticals, said district spokesperson Gentle Blythe in a telephone interview. Other reductions include “severe cuts to summer school, busing, central office services, custodial services, art, music, counseling and other student services,” according to The Chronicle’s article.

However, class sizes will stay stable at around 30 students per teacher in grades four through eight, Ms. Bly the added. District leaders are working to retain as many teachers as possible, and expressed regret that they could not reach an agreement regarding lay-offs by the May 15 deadline.

“Unfortunately, it’s very demoralizing and creates a lot of uncertainty for staff to have a lay-off notice,” Ms. Blythe said. “We would have liked to have avoided it altogether.”

Susie Kameny, a 38-year-old science and technology teacher at Sanchez Elementary School, narrowly escaped the axe when her pink slip was rescinded last year but was not so lucky this time around. She’s still in layoff limbo. Although there still a chance that the final lay-off notice she received last week will be rescinded, Ms. Kameny is making plans to return to the tech industry.

“Its unfortunate that kids at San Francisco are going to miss out,” she said in a telephone interview. “I’m kind of lucky in that I have a second career waiting for me, but I just hate to do it. I love teaching.”

Besides maintaining the school’s technology, Ms. Kameny teaches grades K-5. She obtained a grant to take her kids on a field trip to the Maker Faire in San Mateo this weekend. It could be her last field trip.

Oakland Unified School District

Teachers have returned to the bargaining table after a one-day strike earlier this month to protest a no-pay raise contract imposed by the district’s school board. The district has already laid off 39 teachers and eliminated 250 full-time positions as part of the effort to close next year’s shortfall of $85 millio n, Troy Flint, a spokesman for the district, wrote in an e-mail message.

Additionally, four campuses — Tilden Elementary, Explore Middle, Robeson School of Visual and Performing Arts and BEST College Preparatory High School — are set to close their doors  next year due to low enrollment or poor achievement.

On the plus side, and class sizes will only increase by about two students per class to about 23 students, among the lowest in the region. The district has not yet had to consider mandatory furlough days.

Santa Clara Unified School District

Because it is located in a wealthier district and partially supported by local property taxes, the Santa Clara district is in a better financial position than many of its neighbors, according to Jim Luyau, the district’s assistant superintendent for business. Still, its deficit is increasing from $4 million to $9 million,which will force the district will lay off 65 out of its 900 teachers and increase class sizes from about 20 students to 25-30 next year. A proposal to implement two furlough days annually for all employees is currently on the table, though union negotiations are ongoing.

The district must also cut its administrativ e team by half, leaving it “at the bare bones,” Mr. Luyau added in a telephone interview. But he said he’s optimistic about his multiyear projection for the district, which will accommodate an increase of 200-300 students per year and includes plans to build another high school within five years.

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