In ‘failed state,’ schools face more cuts


California is currently regarded as a "failed state" by such diverse sources as the UK Guardian, Newsweek, Mother Jones and the Claremont Institute. Even worse, California is at the very heart of what is internationally known as the "American crisis."

To deal with ongoing deficits including today's $22 billion gap, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has demanded ever more drastic slashing of state budgets.

The most ludicrous part of this fiasco is his refusal, and that of Republican state legislators, to raise taxes of any kind. California is the only state requiring a two-thirds legislative vote to pass a budget or raise taxes; the Democrats' legislative majority falls short of that, and virtually all Republican legislators have pledged "no new taxes." After several attempts at "half cuts/half hikes" budgets, Democrats had to abandon the notion of raising taxes to keep public services afloat.

California has over 1,000 school districts, each with teachers, administrators and support staff. San Bernardino City Unified School District, with 57,000 students, requires almost 3,000 teachers and 2,000 "classified" (maintenance, fiscal services, procurement, etc.) staff to maintain operations. The district utilizes 80 sites to the maximum responsible spending will allow. Cuts to such districts can be disastrous. Schools will close. Workers will be laid off.

The state has not given guidelines to curb spending, so top administrators have been forced to be creative. First on the chopping block: the transportation department. Very few California schools still have buses on the road, except for those required for special education. As usual, arts programs were cut.

Next up for the knacker: employees. California classrooms are legally required to have "one teacher for every 20 students," but the financial penalty for cramming 24 students into a classroom is worth eliminating one teacher per five classrooms.

According to Joe Tonan, fourth grade teacher at Claremont Unified and union bargaining chair, "We lost 20 full-time teachers last year, and the district plans on twice that next year." By my math that creates classrooms with over 30 students. Tonan says that, of $2.7 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, less than $10,000 went to help save classified positions.

Closing schools has also been popular. The plan is to save money on teachers, principals, and health workers as well as operating costs. David Stevenson, director of facilities at Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District, says this can't be helped when districts have lost 20 percent of their general fund. Stevenson says, "We are reduced to the level of funding we were receiving in 2001, but our district has built three schools since then. Two years ago, we received approximately $7,000 per student; now it is down to $5,000 per student."

In an attempt to keep workers, state and county agencies across California have adopted the emergency measure of "furloughs" (forced unpaid days off). Most school districts have decreed five per year. My wife, who works for Riverside County Mental Health, is up to 25 per year. That's more than a working month.

The warehouse at Lake Elsinore USD was closed to save money. The plan, decided behind closed doors, was to keep a forklift at each school to unload deliveries. Obviously not much thought went into this because teachers are not machinery operators, forklift certification must be renewed annually, and it is not up to teamster drivers to unload their trucks.

The 190,000 classified personnel belonging to the California School Employees Association (CSEA) have been the biggest victims. In 2008, they were the first to take a "step freeze" (no yearly cost of living raise), and in 2009 their hours and benefits were slashed. This year most will give up 10 percent of their pay to keep their jobs, and to keep their co-workers in jobs.

Many districts are doing anything possible to save funds. Val Verde Unified will redesign report cards to save toner. Colored paper and color copies have been outlawed in Yucaipa-Calimesa. Encinitas Union Elementary District sold its smallest school on beachfront property. Perris Elementary District is losing a principal at one school, so the assistant superintendent is adding this to his normal duties.

My co-workers and I are private contractors, but we are a necessity for school districts. It is often cheaper to hire us for small specialized projects, rather than keeping full-time staff to handle plumbing or electrical projects. Last year my workload was at 29 percent of the usual year. Luckily, I have a second job, or I would have been out of business like so many tradespeople in California.

Is there a fundamental short-run solution? No. California based its revenue on capital gains taxes during the housing boom, while cutting taxes on large corporations and the wealthy. We will just have to take it, until we are wise enough to undo the two-thirds requirement for budgets and taxes, as well as electing a legislature with the workers' interest at heart.

This year Denmark topped the Happiest Nation Index while simultaneously being recognized as the "highest taxed nation in the world." Food for thought.

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  • [david goulart:my replies/remarks in parentheses]

    while one teacher per twenty students is great for teacher job security, there is no long term study supporting the claim that larger class sizes are detrimental to education. this was just another line pushed by the unions. [ i can speak as a 63-year-old retired urban public school sub teacher. and i can also speak as one who in a classroom of nearly 40 in the 1950s! who played a small role --- it was a large class--- in sending my 8th grade homeroom teacher to a mental institution thanks to our antics. and while i don't have my fingertips at any studies, i have many direct and indirect accounts--anecdotes if you will-- on this matter. unions need no lines on these matters. they have the real, lived experiences of students and their teachers. i suspect that mr. goulart has nothing similar to show, else he wouldn't be making such strong arguments on such flimsy opinionation. in any event, i have seen no one complain about classes in affluent and private schools with 10-15 classes, and in many cases with 5-10 students. smaller classes make for more teacher focus and attention to individual students, as well as peer cooperation amongst students in dealing with subject matter. of course in order to have such small classes, you have to have more teachers and other educatonal personnel. you have to create jobs and you have to provide resources where teachers can teach to the subject instead of teaching to the test. of course it would also be nice to have all of this in a civilized environment instead of this wilderness of north america in which we daily survive. and eventually we will all learn that that's possible only when we put our struggles for reform at the service of the struggle for socialism.]

    every year on the ballot theres a couple of propositions to pass bonds for schools/education. where does this money go? and like most propositions there's no funding to go along with them. it all comes out of the general fund, leaving nothing for the legislature to work with. [when these proposals are not shot down by backward governors after previously being watered down by backward legislators----- they remain a pittance up against the real costs. don't ask where did the money go until it was actually there in the fiirst place. my understanding of the general fund is that it was gutted within 2-3 years after the passage of the referendums in california authorizing tax limitations, etc. that was about 1981-1982, almost 20 years back. the real question is do we need a progressive tax system now to replace the regressive tax schemes that have been in place since the late 1950s in most of this country, california included.]

    and i guess it's a good thing the author is able to get on the public dole at a school district. otherwise he'd be out of work like most construction workers. [this, i think, is the only part of your argument that you got right. and you're onto something here. construction workers need jobs. there's lots of infrastructure that needs construction, maintenance, and rebuilding. it serves society as a whole. it particularly serves those corporate powers that needs its workers to commute by rail and highway to do their jobs which in turn enriches them. why shouldn't the government take responsibility for that which private industry cannot or will not do itself? and since such construction, maintenance, and rebuilding benefits them primarily, then why shouldn't they be required to pay more taxes?]

    Posted by gary hicks, 03/07/2010 5:31pm (6 years ago)

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