Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Coming Budget Cuts

Sometimes, teachers amaze me. We're all educated, but we're not all smart.

Yes, education is important. But when education takes up 50% of the state budget, how can you not consider cuts to education to help make up our severe budget shortfall? If cuts were made across the board, education would be cut by half the amount of our deficit--far more than the couple billion dollars the governor is proposing.

From the point of view of an accountant, education's getting off easy.

This article from the major Sacramento newspaper gives some details:

California schools could eliminate a week of instruction and increase class sizes next year under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's new plan for solving the state's budget crisis.

Vowing to give schools maximum flexibility to cut costs, the proposal unveiled Wednesday also would allow districts to eliminate one of two science courses required for high school graduation.

Schwarzenegger's plan would provide no teacher salary increases, eliminate a program providing subsidies to overhaul low-performing schools, and suspend participation in a program encouraging teachers to obtain national certification.

Several commenters on that article have suggested some classes that could be cut. I'd like to expand on that.

First off, while I support athletics, they are not the primary purpose of our K-12 schools. If we have to prioritize, athletics needs to go. "But they make so much money for the school!" some will say. Not at my school. Our student government kicks in about $80,000/year just to keep our athletic programs afloat. The rest of the money that the school and the district spend on those programs--spend it elsewhere. If there are programs that do, in fact, make money, keep them. Sorry, golf team.

Another place to cut is AVID. My school has at least one AVID class per grade. Cut them out. It's a valuable program, but if I had to prioritize, I'd put AVID well below our content-specific courses--including electives.

When I was in school, student council was an extra-curricular activity. Meetings took place after school. At the school at which I teach currently, student government is a class that elected officers take. That's 180 hours of student government every year! And students can take it every year, if they get elected! Cut it. Make it extra-curricular. It should be anyway.

With just these few suggestions I've cut a full 5-period teacher and lots of coaches, officials, transportation, etc., and haven't really hurt academics.

And that's just at my school. Imagine what I could cut at the district office, which has grown ever larger while our student population has dropped about 20%!


Anonymous said...

Another approach would be to start with the most important items and go down the list until you run out of money.

So ... currently the state spends about $250,000 per K-12 classroom. Lets figure that after these budget cuts we will be down to about $225,000.

So ...

Teacher Paycheck: ~$60K
Teacher Benefits: ~$20K

Supplies: ~2K ?
Building maintenance:


When we run out of money, we stop.

-Mark Roulo

Luke said...

I remember when I was in high school that sports programs were always first on the chopping block when there was a budget shortfall in the district, and that local tax levies had to pass in order for them to continue. Student government was done during student free time, either before school, at lunch or after school.

Ellen K said...

Luke, you obviously didn't grow up in Texas. Here, although we are supposed to have complete transparency on budgets, many expenditures that directly impact athletics are hidden in other pockets. When you look at just the cost of transportation to games, facility maintenance, uniforms, payroll and the incidentals such as having an EMT unit on site, the bills are astronomical. But they hide the cleaning expenses under general PE budgets, field maintenance under facility maintenance and on and on. Truth be known, most athletic departments survive on fundraisers on top of additional money doled out by the school board or site principal on an as needed basis. What is sadder still, even within the athletic department there's a pecking order. My son played soccer. They got a jersey. That was it. The rest, including sports camps and shorts and shoes were ours to pay. Football players get EVERYTHING except a jockstrap. Including shoes. And Lord knows what the elite schools get from sponsors and over-anxious parents in the form of donations. If we had that much interest in our core classes, maybe we wouldn't have so many kids dropping out or graduation by the skin of their teeth. I would agree with you on some things. When I was in school cheerleading, student council and drill team were NOT classes for credit. They were after school EXTRACURRICULAR activities. Now they are classes with assessments and lesson plans. Sorry, but that is just silly.

Jane said...

How about cutting out some of the testing? My fourth graders take "district" math and reading tests four times a year. These professionally printed multi-page booklets cost a lot to print. Yet, the math and reading programs also come with tests. I think we could also cut down on photo copies. Seriously, teachers need to be more resourceful and for heaven's sake use both sides! I think if each school had to brainstorm savings they could.

Darren said...

Good idea.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher in California, I cannot support increasing class sizes. K-3 are critical years to set the foundation and should have smaller classes of 20. My own children benefited from this. I teach secondary and have classes packed with 36 kids. It is very tough to connect with so many kids times 5 periods a day. I would much rather see some cuts be made.

allen (in Michigan) said...

How about the entire central office, staff and buildings?

As I've remarked before, if charter schools prove nothing else they prove the superfluousness of the central administration to the task of education.

Hey Mark, you were wondering where the rest of that per class budget goes?

Mrs. Bluebird said...

Student council is a class? Amazing. I've never heard of that.

Darren said...

I'm not all that enthused about higher class sizes, either. I'm all about cutting some of that administrative overhead at the district--but not at the school sites.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about cutting AVID. A large portion of students can't take AVID because their parents went to college. That is wrong.

One thing that I just don't understand is why AVID would cost more than another class. It has a teacher and a classroom....why the extra expense?

Darren said...

I don't know about any *extra* expense--perhaps for AVID conferences and trips to colleges?

Anonymous said...

If there is no extra expense, then why not let the kids who want to take AVID take AVID?

It sounds like a productive class for kids who want to go to college.


Darren said...

If teachers/classes have to be cut, I'd make the cuts I suggested. Others might have other priorities.

Anonymous said...

I teach middle school and in three years time we have gone from 1 AVID class for 8th graders to 4 sections of AVID--two for 7th and two for 8th. That seems like overkill. I'm not sure who foots the bill, but our AVID teachers, who are also English teachers, are constantly out at conferences. As a parent, I would not want my child in those classes for English when the teacher is constantly gone. That cannot be good for the academic progress of those students. I can't prove that there is a correlation, but our English scores on the standardized tests went down this last year.

allen (in Michigan) said...

> I'm all about cutting some of that administrative overhead at the district--but not at the school sites.

Which brings me back, by a round-about path, to the importance of performance metrics.

Every paycheck that's attached to someone who makes no contribution, or a contribution that's not worth what they're paid, reduces the funding available to ensure that there are sufficient personnel, and properly paid, where they're needed.

To borrow for my own purposes the very popular example of professional athletes, they aren't good because of how much they're paid, they're paid as well as they are because their *measured* performance is so good. That "obsession" with performance measurement has repercussions through the entire organization in that a decision to hire an administrative person means there's less money to hire the people who are the purpose for the existence of the team organization, the athletes.

Is the hire a net plus or a net minus for the organization? If you're running a baseball team you have, at least, the potential to answer that question. In public education the question isn't asked.

Interestingly enough, even with the near-pathological devotion of sports enthusiasts to their performance statistics the advent of Sabremetrics proved that subtleties of measurement can have a significant impact on the accuracy with which the athletes value is determined. Makes me wonder what sorts of changes would occur if the same sorts of powerful analysis tools were turned on education.

Micha Elyi said...

Imagine what I could cut at the district office, which has grown ever larger while our student population has dropped about 20%!

I don't have to imagine. You won't be able to cut much of the staff at the district office. While your student population dropped 20%, your district has been busy producing paperwork for the County Office of Education, the State of California and the Federal Department of Education. This lovely paper documents how the district met mandates and spent categorial and program funds. Grant proposals are also part of the paperwork produced by the district office and if the grants are awarded, more paperwork to demonstrate compliance with the terms of the grant will have to be produced.

Yes, it's all horrible. Unfortunately there's no silver bullet solution to this mess that has built up by accretion since, oh, the launch of Sputnik probably.