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Educators chronicle problems, solutions to budget problems
Teachers and staff of Crowell Elementary School take to the streets early Thursday morning to protest recent cuts in state education funding. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal
Local K-12 teachers took part in Thursday’s nationwide day of action for education, stating vehemently their opposition to continuing state budget cuts to education funding and offering solutions to the ongoing crisis.
Turlock schoolteachers started early on Thursday, holding protests outside of school sites across town.
“The parents and students in Turlock who are used to quality education aren't aware of how deep these cuts will be,” said Turlock Junior High School language arts teacher George King.
King, along with about 15 of his fellow teachers, held up posters reading “Support Our Schools” in front of Turlock Junior High while students arrived to school by bus and car. Many passing motorists honked their support for the teachers’ cause.
Thursday’s rally came just two days after the Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees voted to send layoff notices to 76 teachers.
Last year the district sent pink slips to 95 teachers and 32 administrators, but ended up not having to terminate those positions. This year, with an expected $3.9 million cut in funding from the state and a possible additional 40 percent cut on top of that, cuts of as many as 60 teaching positions for the 2010-2011 school year seem inevitable.
“It's better for parents to have a wake up call now rather than the first day of school,” King said.
At Crowell Elementary School, a group of about 20 teachers marched from the school's front parking lot on North Avenue, down Geer Road and across the intersection of Hawkeye and Geer. The energetic protesters posted groups on all four corners of the intersection waving posters that read “Got Teachers?” “Cuts Hurt Kids” and “Students are Our Special Interest!”
“The State of California is cutting the education budget down to the bone and it's going to severely impact the education of our children,” said Crowell fourth grade teacher Jill Norman.
Second grade teacher Sally Dickinson worried about suggested class size increases, which would raise kindergarten through third grade classes from 22 to 30 students.
“There are well over 50 standards per grade level. Even at 21 students per one teacher, it is difficult,” Dickinson said. “We want to set them up for success, not failure.”
Local education administrators realize the pain that cuts bring, but have few alternatives without additional funding.
Later in the day Thursday, during an afternoon press conference in front of the Stanislaus County Office of Education building in downtown Modesto, the newly formed Stanislaus County Education Coalition rallied behind a set of solutions they say could save California’s educational system.
According to Tom Changnon, Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools, legislators have lost sight of the value of a world-class education.
“We must all believe that our students do deserve a world-class education, and that’s not being offered to them under the current system,” Changnon said.
Over the past two years, nearly 800 full time employee positions have been eliminated in Stanislaus County, a number which could double following this year’s cuts. County schools have cut $60 million from budgets in the past three years, enough to fund the Hughson, Waterford and Newman-Crows Landing School Districts combined and educate 8,600 students.
While Thursday’s rally served as a call to action to end the dismantling of education, according to organizers, the changes may not be easy. Changnon lamented a legislative and budgeting system that does not work even in good economic times.
The solution, Changnon said, involves numerous contentious changes at the state level, including a shift to a multi-year budget cycle to support long-term planning. A reduction in the vote percentage required to pass the state budget — to 55 percent from two-thirds — was also deemed essential.
Changnon and the Stanislaus County Education Coalition also advocate for the same change in vote requirements to pass local parcel tax proposals — a drop to 55 percent from two-thirds. The change could allow districts better control over their own financial destinies, he said, rather than relying on fundraisers to support essential educational functions.
At a recent local school board meeting, Changnon said the first nine items on the agenda were to authorize fundraisers for arts, science and sporting programs.
“Is this how we want to fund our educational future?” Changnon asked.
The Educational Coalition also calls for eliminating state legislature term limits to support a more informed and effective legislature, and the creation of a more stable and secure funding base for California’s schools. The current tax system is too volatile and overly reliant on investment income of the wealthiest 10 percent, Changnon said.
A more immediate solution, which drew uproarious applause from the assembled crowd, called for alignment between the state testing system and federal regulations. Currently students are tested every year in grades 2-11, but federal laws only require testing once during elementary, middle school, and high school grade spans.
“Why should we test twice as much as other states, and test twice as much as federal guidelines require?” Changnon said. “We could save millions.”
While the odds of getting all the changes passed may seem slim, a diverse group of local educational entities have unified behind a solution for the first time.
The SCEC includes the Association of California School Administrators Stanislaus Charter, the Association of Stanislaus County School Boards, the California School Employees Association, the California Teachers Association, the California State Parent Teacher Association 8th District, the Stanislaus County Office of Education, and the Stanislaus County Superintendent’s Association, all working together to lobby for change.
If some resolution isn’t brokered — and quickly — districts face ongoing cuts in school days, increased class sizes, and eliminated extracurricular programs and services.
In the last year, PTAs have been called to assist funding some of these one-time staples, making the crucial non-school parts of school available to students. According to Debra Elliot, president of the eighth district PTA, which includes Stanislaus County, programs such as outdoor education, field trips, and arts events have relied on PTA funds at many local schools.
“To prepare students for a 21st century world, we have to do more than put them in a classroom, from 8 to 3 p.m.,” Elliot said.
As funds continue to dry up — and PTAs have more and more strain placed on their limited funding — activities such as leadership activities, cross country running, and choir may simply disappear. Without activities like these, Eryk Sanchez, a Turlock High student who serves as student representative on the TUSD board, may never have blossomed into the person is today, he said.
“I am concerned with all of these recent educational budget cuts that future students will not be given the same opportunities that I was,” Sanchez said. “… We can no longer afford to lose any academic programs, courses, and of course staff and teachers.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.