Cuts to Education: Is This Really What We Want Our Legacy To Be?

Across the state, local school districts are feeling the pinch of the state budget impasse. Go anywhere and you will see articles about massive layoffs, budget cuts, and most of all uncertainty.

We do not even have a budget yet and everyone knows what is coming down the pike and it is going to be extremely ugly and counterproductive.

The Governor has proposed that one way to save money is by cutting the school year from 180 days to 175 days. That is a proposal that the Superintendent of Instruction Jack O’Connell strongly opposes, arguing that most of the country has 180 or more days.

O’Connell:

“Most other industrialized countries are in excess of 200 days a year, and today we go 180 days. This proposal would whack that to 175 days.”

O’Connell further argued that it would place the burden on low income schools that could not afford to pay to extend the school year like more affluent schools could.

He called the proposal “devastating.”

“It would particularly hurt our low-income students and students of color. The result would be a further widening of the achievement gap.”

With a 175-day school year, California would join Kentucky, North Dakota and a few other states that require the least number of school days. Is that really what we want for our legacy?

The Davis school district currently seems to be alright for the next two years primarily because of the budget crisis we went through last year and the passage of Measure Q and Measure W.

However, one thing the district is hoping for probably is not going to happen. The district wants flexibility in categorical funding. That is a position that the Governor has taken. But most of the Democratic state legislators except for our own Senator Lois Wolk, are opposed to the idea. That is largely out of fear that district would use the opportunity to gut vital programs. That would not happen in Davis, but it is enough of a concern that the district is not going to get that kind of flexibility.

Immediate problems caused by the budget impasse are also devastating. Because the state is running out of cash, money to school district already budgeted for the 2008-09 school year may end up being deferred.

O’Connell:

“The Governor’s proposal to reduce current year funding to public education by over $6 billion will be extremely difficult for school districts to absorb. I am particularly concerned about the proposal to defer $2.8 billion in payments due early in 2009 to the next fiscal year. This will create a cash flow crisis for school districts.”

California’s budget process is now locked up in a three-war of wills. The Democrats at least temporarily tried to make it a two-player game by trying to create a simple-majority solution, but the Governor and the Democrats could never come to agreement on a stimulus package despite agreeing in principle on the budget.

The Republican legislators have not even come that close. They have argued from the beginning against any tax increase. They argue that tax increases during economic downtime will harm the economy.

I don’t disagree. The problem is so will spending cuts that will inevitably result in the loss of jobs across the state. California does not happen to have the option of going into debt, so the legislator has little choice to do things that harm the economy.

I believe we need to do both spending cuts and tax increases and try to spread the pain as wide and as thinly as possible.

However, there is a further consideration–where do you make the cuts? And that is a big question when you understand California is not at the top in per pupil spending to begin with. California is not at the top in academic performance. Cuts to education, means losses of teachers, closed schools, increased class size, all the things we have worked so hard over the last nearly 20 years to accomplish.

There is no doubt that we face tough times and tough sacrifices. But educational cuts hurt our future not just the present. I ask again if this what we want our legacy to be or if we should find a different way through this.

—David M. Greenwald

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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29 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    This issue should be on a ballot and the voters should decide. The decision that the voters make should be upheld by the elected officials. The measure on the ballot should explain how much of our current budget is spent on various programs and list the people who are receiving the money.The problem with the budget is that the voters have decided issues and those decisions have been ignored by elected officials. Voters have passed campaign contribution limitations that the courts overruled. Voters have passed limitations on public moneys being spent on non-citizens and the elected officials continue to spend the money anyway. It is not racist to want our public money spent only on US citizens.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    To some extent, the voters have already voted on that when they voted for Prop 98.But I disagre with the overall premise. To a large extent the problem with the budget is that the voters have voted to mandate monies go to specific programs.I don’t think this should go to the voters. I think the legislature needs to figure out our budget, figure out where the money comes from, and pass it.The voters are not going to have access to accountants and economists that the legislature and governor has at its disposal.

  3. Anonymous

    Our Governator gave a 10 minute State of the State address where he postured that the legislature should not be paid unless they come together and pass a budget. The Legislature DID pass a budget but Arnold VETOED it. In March, there will be no more paychecks issued to State employees. I don’t think that our billionaire governer will feel the pinch.

  4. Schwarzenegger the problem

    Anonymous 8:51 am – I agree. Our rich governor will not feel the pinch so he does not care if legislators receive their pay or not.Republicans and Democrats have reached an agreement and gave him a proposal while he was away skiing and then he came back to oppose it.We’ve learned that he will be making an appearance in Terminator 4: Salvation. It should be renamed Terminator 4: The Demise of California!

  5. Chuck

    …This issue should be on a ballot and the voters should decide. The decision that the voters make should be upheld by the elected officials. The measure on the ballot should explain how much of our current budget is spent on various programs and list the people who are receiving the money….The initiative process may be nice to have, but for the most part, I have been very disappointed with it. It seems that the legislature uses it to avoid making the tough decisions.After watching 20 years worth of ballot initiatives, I just don’t sign those petitions any more.

  6. Don Shor

    …The Davis school district currently seems to be alright for the next two years primarily because of the budget crisis we went through last year and the passage of Measure Q and Measure W….Not really. The cuts and the loss of COLA for the next couple of years is going to mean loss of revenue to the district. There will almost certainly have to be cuts here….The district wants flexibility in categorical funding. That is a position that the Governor has taken. But most of the Democratic state legislators except for our own Senator Lois Wolk, are opposed to the idea. …. the district is not going to get that kind of flexibility….That flexibility would help. Increasing taxes on people who are facing loss of wages, loss of employment, mortgage foreclosures, shortened work weeks, and loss of business income is not a very practical option. In fact, tax revenues at all levels are declining, which is the problem. The state deficit in ’09-10 will be over $40 billion at the rate we are going. You can’t increase property taxes, sales taxes revenues are way down (and it is a regressive tax), and there isn’t enough income to tax to make up the difference. So there will have to be cuts at the state and district levels. If you don’t have the money, you can’t spend it.The problem is when opponents start picking apart each suggestion individually. Every possible reduction in expenses has an interest group ready to object. Reducing the school year is one option. Other options include reducing teacher pay, cutting programs, higher class sizes, not replacing textbooks, deferring maintenance, reducing administrative salaries, etc. Which would you prefer? It’s going to be some combination of those, plus possibly some increased taxes. So if Superintendent O’Connell opposes shortening the school year, he needs to explain how he would fill the gap.

  7. Anonymous

    Sorry, I am sure I’ll get flamed, but schools have to share the pinch loike everyone else. Schools are such a large part of the budget, it’s inevitable that they to will have to share some of the pinch. Why should they be more immune than anyone else in this state? I get tired of schools thinking they should be the sacred cow. I value education like everyone else, but Davis needs to stop thinking it’s special and doesn’t have to get pinched like the rest of the state.

  8. Mike

    Two easy solutions to the school problem:1) Eliminate the ridiculous seniority system in schools and allow administrators to hire and fire as necessary. There are so many useless teachers who would have been fired many years ago if they had real jobs. I think that good teacheres are worth a great deal, but their value is diluted by the worthless and the weak who are protected by their unions. The teacher’s union places job protection far above students.2) Impose an annual per-student reccomended contribution to the district to cover any shortfalls. Yes there are poor people. They should have thought about that before they started producing herds of children. It isn’t mandatory and their children won’t get bounced if they can’t pay. But it would be very useful to know that putting three kids in the Davis schools system means that the family should kick in an extra $1500 or something. Why make retirees and childless families bear the burden? We want good schools, pay-up.For the whiners who think that education is some sort of god-given right, they are wrong. It is an investment and any family whose priorities are so badly skewed that they won’t contribute toward it shouldn’t be here.

  9. education lover

    …Why make retirees and childless families bear the burden?…Because everyone benefits from a strong economy that education contributes — more taxes from an educated workforce, more productivity, etc. Keep in mind that the community college system is in there with the K-12 system. The cc’s are stop one for job retraining.

  10. Mike

    Dear education lover- I agree, everyone does pay into the system and covers the basic costs. BUT there are shortfalls (like this year) and this is where the free ride for the parents of students needs to come to a stop. Parents need to pay the difference. It really is that simple.

  11. Mitch Mifkin

    …Why make retirees and childless families bear the burden?…Because we pay for the education of those who come after us, just like those before us paid for our education. It’s part of living in a society. Thinking you don’t have to pay for the next generation to get educated is pure selfishness. Kind of like Joe the Plumber having been on Welfare but not wanting to pay taxes to fund the Welfare of others.Myopic, selfish, and undeserving to live with the rest of us.

  12. Mike

    sigh… so much education and still people can’t read.Everyone bears the common burden of taxes (except the poor as they get subsidies to make children) but, sometimes taxes don’t cover all the costs of education.So, if you follow, that means that when there is a shortfall, someone has to pick up the difference.So rather than going back to the same dry well, why not have the parents actually cover their respective costs of the shortfall?And please …Myopic, selfish, and undeserving to live with the rest of us…. is simply an amusing way to say that you didn’t entirely understand all the hard words and are sulking.

  13. Anonymous

    Interesting that the race card was pulled…. Students of Color will Suffer…. The biggest reason students of color suffer is not because of bad budgets,it is the fault of their parents. Remember the SacBee article that stated that 360,000 children of ILLEGAL ALIENS are in the California school system? That’s at $8500.00 each, The stupid and corrupt mexican government does not educate it’s people. Those same people come here illegally and expect the taxpayers to educate their children. The worst part is the parents cannot help their children with homework and cannot/will not speak English. Hence, you have the race card and the blame on the education system. Then come the norteno’s and sureno’s who have a collective IQ of less than 1 and commit a huge percentage of the crimes in California. Tell me again what the problem with education is here in California.Governor Shwarzenegger is a good leader and points directly to the problem, the worthless legislature, people like nunez and perata.

  14. Anonymous

    …Governor Shwarzenegger is a good leader and points directly to the problem, the worthless legislature, people like nunez and perata. …Nunez and Perata are gone and Arnold can’t even lead his own party. You don’t have a clue as to what you’re talking about, do you?

  15. Anonymous

    To the Above, You are the clueless one. But in that condition your are unaware that you are clueless. That helps others to understand your stupid response. How about some facts, clueless.

  16. Don Shor

    wdf said… …Good comments, Don. Do you have suggestions for how to close the gap?…At the moment, the shortfall looks like about 3 – 5% of the total budget. A big chunk of the budget is restricted. There may be some flexibility about transferring funds temporarily between categories. It is also possible that the reserve required by the state can be reduced, though the district may decide it isn’t prudent to do that. But basically the district will have to look at the expense categories and try to decide how to spread a roughly 5% reduction across them with minimal harm. As with any business, payroll is by far the biggest expense, then benefits, then operations and administration. The district can either reduce payroll overall by having everyone take a pay cut, try to reduce staff by attrition, or lay people off. Existing contracts may determine that.Class size changes (which may even be possible at the K-3 level), program consolidations, and a shortened school year for the next couple of budget cycles are some methods to reduce payroll costs. The goal is to preserve programs using lower staffing levels. Plus, of course, there will have to be cuts in the other categories. The choices have to come from unrestricted expenses.You can look at the budget on the DJUSD web site and try to figure out how you would cut $2.5 – 3 million from it during each of the next two years.

  17. David M. Greenwald

    …You are the clueless one. But in that condition your are unaware that you are clueless. That helps others to understand your stupid response. How about some facts, clueless….I think they presented more facts than you did. Nunez and Perata are indeed gone.The Governor was able to garner exactly zero Republican support for his recent budget proposal. If that is not an absence of leadership, I don’t know what is.Then there is this gem, that while the Governor is laying people off and cutting state worker salaries, he’s giving plum jobs to his cronies.Arnold gives jobs to croniesI’ve yet to see any evidence of leadership from a Governor who makes demands, has shown no ability to understand how to negotiate and spends three-quarters of his time traveling around rather than in Sacramento working.My favorite was the speech he gave before Christmas with numerous treats to the legislature to get things done and then he went skiing. Nice.I’ll be waiting for some facts from you about how good a leader Arnold is. I cover him everyday, and I sure haven’t seen any evidence of it.

  18. Reform-minded

    The Sac Bee ran a series of articles some years ago, about the flagrant waste in the CA public education system. Cities like LA are given huge amounts of money that is never tracked are accounted for as to its effectiveness. No gov’t leader seems willing to do what is really necessary, and that is to take a good hard look at where money is going. There is tremendous waste in gov’t, but no legislator or gov’t official seems willing to tackle that problem. Just as an example at the federal level, while Obama is coming up with futile gestures to solve the economic crisis, I don’t hear anything about banking reform, lending reform, securities reform – all of which are necessary to make sure our economy remains strong. Legislators are mostly lawyers, the biggest whimps there ever were beholden to whatever special interest groups gave to their campaigns.

  19. Anonymous

    I agree with Mike’s solutions.Everything in the budge needs to be cut, including schools.I don’t know how it is that Arnold is held responsible for this entire crisis when he doesn’t have control of every legislator, he doesn’t even have a majority, he doesn’t have control over the excessive number of bonds and propositions that are passed that cost too much money, he inherited an already bad situation from Gray Davis, and he didn’t cause the recession we are in. I think he is doing as well as someone can be. I HIGHLY doubt someone like Gray Davis or Cruz Bustamonte or whatever high-level Democrat could do any better.

  20. Glass House

    The stupid and corrupt mexican government does not educate it’s people.If the American government had educated you, you would know that Mexican needs to be capitalized and your it’s should have been its. Considering your illiteracy, it is probably not such a good idea that you spend your time bemoaning the poor education of others.

  21. wdf

    The Sac Bee ran a series of articles some years ago, about the flagrant waste in the CA public education system. Cities like LA are given huge amounts of money that is never tracked are accounted for as to its effectiveness.Do you know roughly when the series ran? A year would be helpful, even better if you could offer a range of months (or season of year). I would like to dig this up to read.Thanks in advance.

  22. Reform-minded

    …Do you know roughly when the series ran? A year would be helpful, even better if you could offer a range of months (or season of year). I would like to dig this up to read….Unfortunately, I can’t even give you a year for this series of articles. As I remember it, it was a total of three articles, maybe four. It was a huge investigative series on how big school districts are pocketing vast sums of money that are never tracked, accounted for, nor assessed as to effectiveness. LA schools were the biggest recipient of this largesse. My estimate is that it ran about ten years ago, but that would just be a guesstimate. If you called up the Sac Bee, they may be able to track it down for you. It was fascinating reading – especially in the light of today’s push for more money spent on education. One thing I distinctly remember is despite the huge story, not a darn thing changed in the way money was spent on education in this state.

  23. Rich Rifkin

    …It was a huge investigative series on how big school districts are pocketing vast sums of money that are never tracked, accounted for, nor assessed as to effectiveness….Infamously, the LAUSD paid millions of dollars in recent years on a payroll system that ended up not working. Checks that were supposed to go to teachers could not be accounted for or sent out. And years before, the LAUSD spent millions more to build a school on a toxic waste site that could never open.I don’t know about the series in the L.A. Times. But I recall a number of stories highlighting wasteful spending in that district.

  24. Anonymous

    To GLASS HOUSE, mexican was not capitalized on purpose. It was intended to show disrespect. The, it’s, instead of, its, are both wrong. It should have been, its’, to show ownership. Try to show a little depth in your understanding when you read something. Maybe ask a question instead of shooting from the hip. You are the illiterate one and perhaps you should allow others to bemoan whatever they choose. KMA, (figure that one out)

  25. Anonymous

    To GLASS HOUSE,mexican was not capitalized on purpose. It was intended to show disrespect. The, it’s, instead of, its, are both wrong. It should have been, its’, to show ownership. Try to show a little depth in your understanding when you read something. Maybe ask a question instead of shooting from the hip. You are the illiterate one and perhaps you should allow others to bemoan whatever they choose. KMA, (figure that one out)It must feel really good to vent like this, but if you knew exactly whom you were offending, you’d probably be embarrassed.

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