School Board News Today, an online publication of NSBA, provides timely and relevant stories and analysis from NSBA and other news outlets to school board members, administrators, and all others interested in K-12 education.
Articles in the Budgeting category
When ASBJ wrote about the plight of California school districts that had operated on bare-bones budgets for years in its April issue, the mid-year cuts had just begun. A bond referendum that would have stabilized K-12 funding next year, albeit while increasing taxes and borrowing heavily, failed by large margins last week.
So now that these districts know that their worst-case-scenario budgets are going to be cut again the next school year, what happens?
In the short term, district officials are looking at some painful cuts-perhaps even insolvency in a few cases. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to reduce education spending by nearly $1,000 per pupil: from $8,503 last year to $7,527 this coming year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Without the prospect of even flat-lined funding, classrooms will be affected, administrators say.
Many districts are planning to lay off dozens of teachers, administrators, and other staff, and many of those already have cut out extracurricular activities. Some are looking at entirely eliminating athletics programs or transportation. Others still have arts and music classes or librarians and guidance counselors that can be cut. The state may go so far as to allow districts to snip days off the 180-day school calendar.
“These programs being cut are emblematic of our students being robbed of a quality education – all the things that give them promise,” Robin Swanson, spokeswoman for the Education Coalition, told the Chronicle this week.
Students in the Los Angeles Unified district protested a plan to lay off about 2,250 teachers there by cutting classes on Friday. Some threatened to boycott the state assessments this month, according to the Los Angeles Times. State law prohibits the district from laying off more instructors, so without some relief next year, LAUSD Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines told the newspaper that he was worried about the district’s ability to stay solvent.
Nobody knows the exact impact these cuts will have long term, but educators do know that without a decent education for the next generation, the already troubled state will further its decline. There have been some rumblings of a federal bailout akin to the General Motors plan, allowing the White House to take over the state’s finances. That may be the best hope for schools in California at this point.
Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor
LAUSD parents urged to demand more control of schools
Los Angeles Times, May 11
Risk-taking charter school operator Steve Barr is launching an effort through which parents would wrest political control of the L.A. school system from unions, school bureaucrats and other entrenched interests. The plan is for parents to form chapters all over town and improve schools using the growing leverage of the charter school movement.
School violence drops, but bullying, thefts persist
Washington Post, May 11
Even though spasms of intense violence erupt on campuses occasionally and linger in the social consciousness, violence at schools across the country has been decreasing for a number of years.
Texas district may give students week off for passing tests
Dallas Morning News, May 11
High school students in Mesquite, Texas who pass state assessments and their classes could skip the last week of school next year while their peers get intensive academic help under a plan expected to be approved by the school board.
Nevada district to eliminate administrative jobs to save $1.1 million
Las Vegas Sun, May 11
The Clark County school district expects to save $1.1 million a year from an administrative reorganization that shrinks five regional districts into four and eliminates another office.
California budget crisis threatens high school sports
San Francisco Chronicle, May 10
The state budget crisis has prompted school districts to contemplate painful cuts to sports programs–including the possibility of eliminating athletics entirely–and forced them into frenzied fund-raising.
Fertile N.Y.C. job market dries up overnight for new teachers
New York Times, May 10
As a result of efforts to cut costs and avoid teacher layoffs, New York City principals may only fill vacancies with internal candidates for the 2009-10 school year, leaving new graduates and aspiring teachers from programs like Teach for America and the city’s Teaching Fellows scrambling for jobs.
For more news, go to School Board News Today.
Stimulus funds up the ante for public schools
USA Today, May 5
School districts are gearing up to receive the first payments under the federal economic stimulus, but some are concerned that a two-year span is not enough time to generate big gains.
White House to seek input on education law
Associated Press via Boston Globe, May 5
Education Secretary Arne Duncan is a man on a mission: to hear what teachers, students, and parents in at least 15 states think about No Child Left Behind.
CDC expert urging cautious approach to swine flu
Associated Press via Google, May 4
Federal health officials are rethinking their advice that schools consider closing for as long as two weeks because of swine flu, a recommendation that has already given an unscheduled vacation to 330,000 students.
L.A. school officials call for legislation easing firing of teachers
Los Angeles Times, May 4
Top Los Angeles school officials called for new state legislation that would make it easier to dismiss tenured instructors.
The wheels on the bus won’t be going round and round in many school districts that chose to partially or fully cut bus service from their budgets for the 2009-2010 school year. However, that shouldn’t stop other wheels from turning on school transportation options.
Biking is a great way for students who live close to their schools to get to class and get some exercise, all before the bell rings. Parents and administrators who have questions about the safety or practicality of bicycling have many resources to address their concerns.
For example, representatives from Bicycle Colorado visit Denver Public Schools to teach students bike safety and skills education as part of their Safe Routes program. The group also offers advice to small communities on how to implement safe and effective bike routes.
The National Center for Safe Routes to School website lists coordinators in each state who focus on improving avenues for kids to walk and bike to school. While district funds for busing are drying up, the federal funding for Safe Routes to School was $180 million for the fiscal year ending in September 2009. In place since 2005, the annual program supports encouraging alternative transportation to schools and launching public awareness campaigns on the issue.
If you don’t think expanding bike or pedestrian paths in your district are worth the energy, just be happy you don’t live in Oceanside, Calif., where officials decided to charge families $360 annually per child (but no more than $900 per family, thankfully) to ride the bus to school, the Union-Tribune reported.
That $360 could buy your child a pretty nice bike, but more importantly it would open doors for lessons in how to ride safely and how transportation habits affect the environment.
For a better idea of how to organize walking or cycling plans that promote safety and community engagement, check out this pdf guide from Canada’s Active and Safe Routes to School program.
Christian Kloc, Spring intern (avid cyclist)
“Was there a culture of bullying at Columbine?”
As soon as I asked the question, I knew it was stupid. And inappropriate.
I was interviewing Frank DeAngelis, the principal of Columbine High School. Here I was, talking to a man who ran toward the gunfire in the hallway outside his office, who led a group of girls to safety outside the building. I was asking a man who could have died that day, who put himself in jeopardy to save others, about bullying at his high school.
If the Columbine shootings brought more attention to the problem of bullying, then great – we should all be doing more to deal with and prevent it. But bullying didn’t cause the Columbine shootings and bullying prevention programs wouldn’t have stopped them.
The story of the bullied victims out for revenge against their tormentors took hold early after the tragedy. It gave the shooters a motive, and that helped us make sense of the horror and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
However, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not bullied. In his new book, Columbine, David Cullen writes that the shooters weren’t even targeting particular students, athletes, or Christians. They wanted to kill everyone. Columbine was, in fact, a failed bombing. They planted explosive devices in the building and also in the parking lot, hoping also to kill the police, parents, and journalists arriving on the scene.
Psychological of the two killers that have come out over the past decade suggest that Eric Harris was a psychopath – a charming liar with a deep contempt for just about everyone. Dylan Klebold was troubled and depressed – a vulnerable teen egged on by his older friend.
A culture of bullying, however heinous, does not lead to boys carefully plotting and carrying out the destruction of their high school, hoping for the highest body count imaginable. It does not lead them to purchase weapons and stockpile pipe bombs and other explosives in the bedrooms of their affluent suburban homes.
What could have prevented Columbine? Maybe nothing. But we can try to prevent another one like it by learning what really happened.
To read more about the stories of Frank DeAngelis and other school administrators who lived through the Columbine tragedy, go to American School Board Journal. In addition to article, we’ve also posted an hour-long webinar featuring the Jefferson County School District leadership team.
Kathleen Vail, Managing Editor
As local school districts attempt to deal with declining revenues, school officials are working to keep the pain of budget cuts out of the classroom. But that’s almost impossible.
Consider Volusia County Public Schools, which is the subject of an article on school finance in April’s ASBJ.
More than 500 teaching positions have been eliminated as the school system responded to nearly $50 million in budget cuts over the past two years. Foreign language instruction took a hit, and enrichment and remedial programs were scaled back.
Despite their budget struggles, Volusia school officials say with pride that the district’s core mission is largely untouched, and I believe them. Math, science, reading, and even music and fine arts were spared serious damage by budget cuts.
But make no mistake-some damage was done. Cuts in professional development, for example, won’t show up in test scores this year. But if teachers aren’t improving their skills, will they be as capable to handle the academic challenges of tomorrow’s students?
“I used to say with great confidence that the next graduating class will be our highest academically yet, but I don’t make that guarantee today,” says Chris Colwell, deputy superintendent for instructional services. “We have some residual damage, and it will take several years to get back to where we want to be.”
And that’s assuming the budget damage doesn’t get worse. Last I heard, early projections suggested the district could lose another $40 million in state and local revenue next year.
There’s nothing unique about Volusia County’s situation. Across the nation, school districts are raising class sizes, cutting back on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, delaying textbook purchases, or cutting back on social workers and counselors.
The Chicago Public Schools are getting a lot of attention these days, as the hometown of President-elect Barack Obama and Superintendent Arne Duncan, the most-likely-soon-to-be-confirmed Secretary of Education. The district has undergone many changes in the last decade, and has made impressive academic progress under Duncan’s leadership.
But what a lot of people don’t know is that the district is undertaking a major commitment to “go green” and embrace more environmentally friendly practices. Part of it is mandated by state law-the Illinois legislature required all schools in the state to adopt green cleaning practices in May 2008, to not only help the environment but also to improve indoor air quality and help curb asthma, allergies, and other ailments.
Then Mayor Richard Daley decided to make Chicago the “greenest city in the U.S.” The school district hired a new environmental program manager, Suzanne Carlson, and began to look for ways to instill more sustainable practices into the day-to-day operations of schools. What resulted was a 26-part plan, and Chicago will be one of the districts featured in ASBJ’s April issue with lessons on “going green.”
“Bring your boots,” said Georgette Johnson, communications director for the Pontiac School District in Southeast Michigan.
Good advice, I thought this morning as I looked out into the darkness from my motel window and saw the night’s new snow, illuminated by bright streetlights. Forecast for tonight: 4 degrees above zero.
I’m here in Pontiac to report on how the district plans to deal with a $10 million budget deficit. It’s part of ASBJ’s April cover package on the recession’s impact on school districts across the country. Pontiac has been losing enrollment for years, as residents move out of state to escape one of the more troubled economies in the nation. With a capacity of 20,000 students and an enrollment this year of just 7,2000, Pontiac must close one of its two high schools, at least one middle school, and several elementary schools.
Pontiac’s school board is braced for the challenges facing it these next several months. But if you think the mood here is bleak, you’re wrong. At the school board meeting Monday night, the trustees heard songs from elementary school students from two schools as part of “board appreciation” day. One of those schools has fewer than 170 students and could easily be closed this time next year, but you wouldn’t’ know it by the way the children sang and the reaction from the board members.
“I just want to say to those young people,” said Trustee Christopher Northcross, the longest serving board member, honored for more than 3,000 days of service. “Those presentations were better for me than silver or gold.”
Then the board members and superintendent thanked the parents for giving them the opportunity to teach their children. They honored a high-achieving school student — and his mother. Then board members and the audience broke for cake to celebrate.
The meeting went on for another three hours or so, as the board finished the ceremonies and light-hearted gift-giving and dealt with more critical issues facing the district.
Come to Pontiac in mid-winter, amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, with the Big Three carmakers teetering and pleading for federal aid, and you would think the district, its employees, and its volunteers would be distraught and downtrodden.
I did – but I was wrong.
Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor