With all of the propositions on this year’s ballot, I believe people should have information that is not a 30 second sound bite from someone who does not have a personal stake in its outcome.
For the last 20 years I have served on various local school boards. The first being the El Dorado Union High School District Board at the age of 18 after graduating from high school and later the El Dorado County Board of Education. I am now serving on the Rescue Union School Board, where two of my kids now attend. During the last 20 years we have all experienced the highs and lows of education funding as the Legislature does its annual budget dance; however, the last four years have been the most difficult and both parties are to blame for the mess that we are in.
For those who complain that schools should be run like a business, I can tell you that most districts are run that way. Unlike the state, we are required to develop three-year budget projections and certify our ability to meet our financial obligations. What most people don’t realize is that the state has passed budgets for the last several years that are “deferred,” meaning that almost 40 percent of the money the district is supposed to receive in the state budget is not funded until the following year. This means that some districts are required to borrow money in order to make payroll as they wait for the money they are supposed to receive from the state. There is also what is called a deficit factor of over 20 percent, which is money that is an “IOU” to school districts under the Prop 98 guarantee, causing schools to only receive 78 cents on each dollar allocated.
I am proud to say that Rescue Union School District has the highest District API score in the El Dorado County and had the single largest one-year increase in the Sacramento area. While the district is very proud of the great work of our teachers and students, in this year’s current budget we increased class sizes from an average of 25 to 30 students, reduced the school year by three days without reducing instructional time, and eliminated several custodial positions and went to skip cleaning. What is skip cleaning? Skip cleaning means that a classroom is cleaned once every two or three days, instead of every day.
In prior years we had also eliminated or combined several administrative positions, including sharing food service and transportation directors positions with the Buckeye Union School District, thereby benefiting both districts, as well as eliminating an assistant superintendent position.
Because we run more like a business and project out three years, the Rescue District (and many others) have required higher reserves for economic uncertainty. In the case of Rescue, we approved a budget with a minimum 15 percent reserve. Why so high? Because assuming Proposition 30 does not pass, we will be able to maintain the current programs for this school year; however, if funding is flat or cut we will have a negative balance by 2013-14 school year.
If Proposition 30 fails, it means a loss of $1.6 million in the current year. What does $1.6 million look like? Even a 10 percent reduction in pay for all employees does not cover the costs. This would also have to be negotiated and would most likely mean reducing the number of school days. To put it in perspective, reducing the school year by 15 days gets us to approximately $1.6 million.
It is unfortunate that the state is holding local school districts hostage, but the district’s only tool in the tool box is to reduce costs. Like almost every district in the state we have cut to the bone and have tried to keep cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. The Rescue board has already started exploring where additional cuts could be made if additional funding is not provided; unfortunately we are at the point that cuts will directly impact the classroom and the ones who lose the most are our students.
Whatever way the vote turns out next Tuesday, I encourage you to get involved in your local school district. As tough decisions have to be made, please make sure your voice is heard.