Educators fear deeper cuts

By From page A5 | October 17, 2012

Driving around our expansive El Dorado County — sprawling from the valley up through the foothills and forests to Lake Tahoe — I am constantly amazed at the diversity and beauty of the terrain.

I am equally impressed by the diversity of our school districts.

Yet after a quarter century of striving to improve the quality of education in both large and small, urban and deeply rural districts, I feel a growing concern — and personal sadness — about our local schools and the future of education in our communities.

My primary concern is not just about the pivotal Proposition 30 facing state voters in the Nov. 6 election but from a cumulative erosion of funding for schools in the past five years.

In El Dorado County alone our 12 local elementary districts, two unified districts and union high school district have been forced to cut about 20 percent from their annual budgets — about $22 million in real-world dollars. Numerous programs have had to be curtailed or canceled, with talented teachers and staff laid off.

Amazingly, our schools have been able to sustain a solid performance level of 81 percent, despite cutback upon cutback. I credit the professionalism and dedication of our teaching, administrative and support staffs, as well as involved parents in our schools.

However, in my conversations with our professionals, I sense that the extra sacrifices most have made to sustain quality have taken a personal toll.  The cuts are creating a level of discouragement and fatigue that begins to approach burnout for some.

There are two types of cuts: direct reductions in funding due to the multi-billion-dollar statewide budget deficit, and “deferred” payments — which amount to the same thing (cutting people and programs) locally.

Then comes this year’s blow (if voters reject Prop. 30): By the end of the school year, our districts must make another drastic cut of about 10 percent, or about $455 per student on a basis of $5,000 per student from the state.  This would amount to several million more dollars.

While I am not advocating on behalf of Prop. 30, I feel it is my responsibility to warn of the immediate and longer-term impacts of its failure — impacts that will directly impact our 30,000 students, 6,500 professionals and support staff, and the overall quality of the education we provide our children.

Based on my lifetime of experience in education, including a quarter century with the El Dorado County Office of Education in budgeting, special services and as superintendent, last month I said publicly that the impacts would be “horrific.”  I stand by that professional assessment.

It is demoralizing to those of us who have spent our careers trying to provide quality education for children, and now we’re dismantling programs that make a real difference.

I am not alone in my concern and sadness at witnessing the erosion of the quality educational programs I have spent a career helping build.  It is what I hear from officials in our local districts, from colleagues statewide, from teaching and support staff throughout our schools, and even from within the County Office of Education itself.

Deputy Superintendent Jeremy Meyers, in charge of educational services and programs, believes that we are quite literally at a “tipping point” where quality cannot be sustained despite the dedication and best efforts of our staff.  He notes that the cutbacks are not only increasing class sizes and reducing programs but are actually ending the careers of some teachers.

He’s right.  We are seeing the brightest, our youngest folks who are coming into the profession at a time when we’re then saying to them, “We can’t continue,” as we hand them layoff notices under the last-in-first-out seniority rule.

The loss of another 10 percent in per-student funding, on top of the deep cuts already made, could mean shortening the school year by three full weeks.

And despite the rhetoric of politicians on the importance of education to America, do we really believe — in comparison to other countries and the world economy — that we want our kids in the United States to receive three weeks less of school?

Vicki L. Barber, Ed.D., has been a professional educator for more than four decades. She was elected Superintendent of Schools for the El Dorado County Office of Education in 1994, after serving as Director of Special Services and Assistant Superintendent for Business Services in the 1980s and Deputy Superintendent for Administrative Services in the early 1990s. She has received several statewide awards for educational excellence, and is active in local nonprofit and community-based organizations. She can be emailed at

Special to Village Life

Discussion | 9 comments

  • CuriousOctober 09, 2012 - 11:21 am

    Then how about consolidating Buckeye and Rescue Union School Districts? It seems excessive to have two school districts given the elementary/middle school population of the area.

  • ParentOctober 09, 2012 - 9:38 pm

    Buckle up. Prop 30 isn't going to pass. The people have no confidence that the money sent to the state has been/will be spent responsibly. Why send more? Yes, the kids pay the price, and that should weigh very heavily on everyone in government who has chosen to spend money on things they deem more important.

  • CuriousOctober 10, 2012 - 1:58 pm

    Parent: Agree with you 100%.

  • Terry CrumpleyOctober 11, 2012 - 4:32 pm

    Please tell me, just where does all of the education/school money go? We spend a fortune on our schools yet our children don't seem to see any of it in the classrooms. Why is that? Where exactly is the money going? So, we should throw more good money after bad money? We should vote to further tax ourselves? Our "representatives" in Sacramento waste our money on garbage we would never approve of then scream and cry for money for police, fire and education! Well, who wants those things cut!? No one, of course! How about if we spend our tax dollars prudently, and based on priorities, by paying for education, police, fire and other necessities first - then when the money dries up, we don't pay for the useless garbage? Oh. Wait. Then our "representatives" might not be able to scream for more money to waste! Now I get it.

  • Education should be a priorityOctober 11, 2012 - 8:55 pm

    Where does our education money go? Same place as it always has - to the schools. You need to understand where revenues for schools comes from in California. Schools make up about 40 percent of the California budget. When the economy sucks schools will probably take a hit since they are such a large percentage of the budget. In case you have been living under a rock California was hit hard by the recession. A great deal of revenue is created by a taxes on capital gains which disappeared in the crash. Dot com money dried up, jobs were lost, houses dropped in value and much taxable income was lost from the crash. I believe we have turned the corner and things will slowly improve in our state. I do think we need to set aside money in good years to weather the bad years but that does us no good in this discussion. Schools are already leaner than they've ever been in this state. If you are OK with class size increases, loss of curriculum, shortened school years and a poorer education for our already 47th ranked kids then just say that's what you want. I am all for a temporary tax relief for our kids. If all you think our government is are schools, police and fire and the rest is garbage then I think you should just stay home and not use any of the infrastructure like roads, water, libraries, food safety, parks, recreation programs, senior services, transportation, healthcare workers, public servants - you know the stuff you depend on everyday but take for granted.

  • ParentOctober 12, 2012 - 10:41 am

    Yes, education should be a priority - not just for taxpayers, but also for those who spend the tax dollars. Here is a partial list of the 500+ California state agencies. I wonder why there is no money for schools (and don't even get started on high speed rail and other areas of wasted tax $).

  • Terry CrumpleyOctober 13, 2012 - 5:28 pm

    And who paid for the infrastructure? Those schools, roads, bridges and so forth were built by people who were paid for their work and the taxpayers, including business owners and public servants, paid for that infrastructure. And who pays for the parks, senior services and all else listed? The taxpayers! I love the parks, the Senior programs and many of those other programs. Those are not the programs to which I refer as "garbage". I will happily pay taxes for those things! And I do. However, a huge amount of money is absolutely wasted and misspent. How can that be denied? Parent provides a valuable link to the 500+ California state agencies. That list is what I was referring to. Many of those are duplications, waste and yes - garbage! Please explain how we have billions for high speed rail to nowhere, but nothing for our schools? I have three children in our public schools. I don't live under a rock as you suggest. I live under heavy regulation, high taxes and a great deal of government waste. No tax is ever temporary. If our CA government would stop burdening the job creators and other revenue producers, quit killing jobs and running income producers out of the state, and more importantly, start cutting the waste and duplication, and stop the wasteful and misguided spending, we wouldn't be in a position in which we are asked, once again, to tax ourselves more. Perhaps we should simply agree to disagree.

  • Education should be a priorityOctober 13, 2012 - 10:42 pm

    How is the school money wasted? Give me some examples. Schools are running more efficiently than ever. You say you love the parks and senior programs. How do you know that they aren't wasting money running those? It's easy to say we need to pay less taxes and complain about all the waste if you don't have to offer any examples. Your scenario is the job killer. Let the state go broke and lose valuable middle class jobs. There is a reason Sacramento is lagging in the recovery behind the rest of the state. State and federal workers have been cut and even though you hate those government workers you can't deny they're spendable income is vital to the economy of the region. We need to protect those jobs. Teachers are barely hanging on to that middle class status. Benefits are awful, pay is frozen or down, working conditions continue to worsen and job security is non existent. Yes I come from a family of teachers and many are considering new careers. Not because they want to but because they can't afford to do it and would like to plan a family or buy a house but can't because they get pink slips every year. My neighbor has taught for 20 years and can't afford to fix his car and is not sure if he'll have a job if prop 30 doesn't pass. He's doing the job of three teachers now because of budget cuts so I don't know where the waste is. My daughter's school has 1 counselor for the whole high school and she was laid off during the last school year so the school had none until they fired a couple maintenance guys to hire her back. The library has minimal hours, they no longer have paper towels in the bathrooms and they barely offer enough classes to graduate. I go to school board meetings as much as I can to at least voice my concerns. Im appalled there are not more people there. There is only so much the board can do as they are continually asked to do more with less. I don't see the waste, I just see the cuts and it is impacting our schools and kids.

  • ParentOctober 14, 2012 - 1:22 pm

    Priorities need to be adjusted, not tax rates. We all want the best for our schools and our students. No one wants schools to fail, but how is Prop 30 the answer? Prop 30 does not provide $1 more for our schools than they get today. All it does is pay the schools the money that has been promised, but deferred forcing many districts to borrow and spend down reserves. The state needs to pay the money that has been promised - without raising our taxes more. With state revenue down, the government needs to concentrate on essential programs - like education and infrastructure - and cut support for special interest programs.



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