A little over a week ago, I was in sunny California; topping 80 degrees, I almost forgot it was winter until I returned to the Washington D.C. area and it’s single-digit weather. What a rude awakening!
Not as rude of an awakening, however, as many of the school districts are having in the Golden State, thanks to its plummeting economy, which was the reason I was out west in the first place. With one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, a housing bubble market that has seen the largest bust, and the foreclosure rates to prove it, California is among the worst affected by the economic downturn.
And education is definitely feeling the effects. Gov. Schwarzenneger has proposed cutting $2.1 billion from schools in the middle of this year and another $3.1 billion from education in the 2009-2010 school year. Ouch!
But as districts begin the torturous process of cutting “extras”, laying off employees, and finally eliminating whole programs or shuttering schools, officials must worry about another unpleasantry: lawsuits.
While I was in California, I visited the Capistrano Unified School District in the southern part of Orange County. There are a lot of good people there, trying to do good things on a shrinking budget. It, like other school districts, are trying to figure out how to continue providing a quality education, even as its budget continues to get smaller and smaller, while operating costs continue to rise. Naturally, they have had to cut and reduce many services— they cut their bus routes by more than half, for example.
And naturally, this has angered people … though in truth, there were some angry people even before their budget crisis, but I’ll leave that for another story, that will appear in the April edition of ASBJ. Angry people, especially in this day and age, file lawsuits. To date, the district has 15 active lawsuits against it.
And they’re not the only one to experience this byproduct of hard times. Orange County recently let go of 200 social service employees. The Western Center on Law and Poverty is planning to file a lawsuit very soon.
I bring all of this up not to make you more depressed and anxious about the future, but to highlight the importance of securing sound legal counsel. It just so happens that Februrary’s edition of ASBJ includes a look at the top legal issues of the day, and tips on what you should look for in an education attorney.
Because the way things are playing out now, schools will need not only good financial, but legal advice to navigate the turbulent economic times ahead.
Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor