So, here’s what happened. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is determined to narrow the state’s deficit, and that means a $4 billion cut to schools in the coming budget.
$4 billion dollars. From schools.
Given that staff salaries can be as much 80% of a district’s budget, districts all over the state are preparing to lay off huge chunks of their staffs. Which is cool, I mean, I know our schools are doing fine, and can coast without teachers.
What’s actually happening now is that districts are selecting portions of their teaching force, particularly younger/less experienced teachers, and issuing a “pink slip,” a letter saying “you may not have a job next school year.” They might be rehired, but probably not.
Bay Area pink slips:
- 193 at Vallejo City Unified School District
- 189 at Mount Diablo Unified
- 52 at Berkeley Unified
- 15 at Alameda Unified
- Oakland Unified: no slips yet, but has a $23 million hole
I get that this is an impossible situation, that the state doesn’t have the money to fund schools this year, and that schools have no other wiggle room other than their teaching staff (other expenses are solid, and built in). It’s still a tragedy, and I imagine, a product of larger issues in school funding (these are issues I know of in California, but I expect they occur elsewhere):
- Budgets are defined by local property tax income, and property taxes are severely limited by Prop 13. Prop 13 is aka “The 3rd Rail of California Politics,” as in, if you touch it, you die. Warren Buffett (maybe the smartest man on Earth when it comes to dollars an cents) was fired from Schwarzenegger’s campaign when he suggested reevaluating the initiative.
- Local control makes for a shocking array of mediocrity, ranging from heavily-funded “pet initiatives” in some districts that have little relation to academic performance, to embezzling Superintendents in others.
- At the same time, CA’s referendum lets voters put just about anything on state ballots. As a result, poorly-planned-but-popular initiatives can become law. Many of these have hard funding rules, such as “2.5% of the state budget shall be devoted…” Eventually, we’ve voted ourselves into a situation where a good chunk of our budget is committed to arguably inessential services.
There are a lot of smart people trying to solve these school funding issues with innovative ideas. A particularly revolutionary (read: very interesting, and DECADES off) idea is discussed by Matt Miller (of The Center for American Progress) in his article for The Atlantic, “First, Kill All the School Boards.” He makes some solid points, as do people who couldn’t disagree with him more.