Monday, January 12, 2009

Shorten The School Year To Save Money?

In an attempt to help cut California's humongous deficit, the governor has proposed allowing school districts to shorten the school year by a week. This would allow schools to save a week of salaries and a week of HVAC expense--not an insignificant amount in California in June!

The major Sacramento newspaper provides some information about this proposal:

How would the cuts be made?

School board members could decide to shorten the year for their districts or not. Those that opt for a shorter school year would eliminate the equivalent of five instructional days, either in minutes or actual days.

Can you put the cuts in perspective?

Trimming the calendar by five days roughly translates to 3 percent of the school year, said Brian Stecher, an educational analyst with the Rand Education program.

"It's a relatively small cut, but on the other hand, if we saw academic gains of 3 percent across the state, we'd be very happy," Stecher said...

How would cutting school days save money, and how much?

Reducing the school year to 175 days would save on salaries and operational and maintenance costs. According to the California Department of Finance, the state's 1,000 districts could collectively save $1.1 billion.

When would the cuts go into effect?

During the 2009-10 school year.

Until I read this article, I thought these would be midyear cuts--in other words, I thought we'd lose a week this year. Now I learn it won't even be until next year. I could probably save up a week's pay if I have a year's notice, don't you think?

Not that I'd want to, of course. No one wants to take a pay cut. I certainly think that non-classroom expenses should be cut before the first dollar that affects a classroom does. But if the state could save a billion dollars by doing this--we're a couple dozen billion in the hole here, depending on whose numbers you believe. One billion dollars is not an insignificant amount.

Let's keep in mind we're talking about California, though. We must hear what the unions have to say.

Where do employee unions stand?

The California School Employees Association, which represents classified employees including custodians and office staff, and the California Teachers Association are opposed.

"Districts don't get to unilaterally abrograte (union) contracts," said Dave Low, assistant director of governmental relations for CSEA. "The governor is throwing out options that are pretty far-fetched in terms of their capacity to be implemented."

CTA President David Sanchez said in lieu of cutting the school year, his union is proposing a "Public School Investment and Accountability Act," which would create a 1 percent sales tax increase effective Jan. 1, 2010. If approved by the Legislature, it would generate between $5 billion and $6 billion a year for K-12 and community colleges.

So the CTA isn't willing to accept any cuts, and in fact wants to raise taxes on an already-strapped public.

Here's a thought: if the CTA is so worried about its teachers, maybe it could help them by buffering the loss of a week's pay. The CTA admits to spending about 1/3 of its money on expenses not related to collective bargaining or union organizing--that's the money it refunds to me each year (click on the agency fee label for more details on that). Perhaps the CTA could reduce all teachers' dues to the agency fee amount--that is, the amount that it claims is what is spends on collective bargaining and union organizing (even though in reality it spends less than it claims). Teachers would lose around $1000 in pay if the school year is shortened, but union dues could be reduced by $300 with no impact on CTA's stated mission.

That sounds smarter to me than trying to get a sales tax increase passed during a recession.

CTA won't do this, or course--they don't want to give up their money (that they don't earn) any more than I want to give up my money (that I do earn). So what might the result be?

Can districts shorten the year without agreement from unions?

It's illegal for districts to unilaterally impose a five-day furlough, said Ron Bennett, president of School Services of California, a leading nonpartisan think tank. But if unions don't agree to the furlough, their members may face layoffs.

Teachers unions don't really care about layoffs. Layoffs mostly affect new employees that, while dues-paying members, aren't tenured and can be fired anyway. The union will protect tenured jobs, and everyone will be happy--except the poor newbies who get canned. But them's the breaks, right?


Forest said...

When 50% of the state of California's budget goes to education and the state faces a SERIOUS financial shortfall, I think it is reasonable to consider this type of proposition.

As a math teacher, I, together with my department have planned the year with basically one focus in mind: Preparing students to be as successful as possible on the California Standards Tests with inform our API scores. Those tests, for the whole school are administered in May.

After the test, we still do instruction that is valuable but in some ways our school year is over.

To be honest, 5 days less at the end would be no tragedy, so long as the 5 days less are not taken from the time preceding the state tests.

Anonymous said...

"I could probably save up a week's pay if I have a year's notice, don't you think?"

Just for some perspective ... my company has been holding forced shutdowns of one week per quarter for the last year and 1/2 or so. So ... four weeks per year that you can either take without pay or that you can burn accrued vacation days.

Late last year we *also* had a 15% layoff.

I'd like to think that with a 1/2 year warning, California teachers could find a way to manage one fewer week of work and one fewer week or pay. They are bright cookies, no? :-)

My company is far from alone in doing this in Silicon Valley...

[Whether this makes sense compared to laying off a bunch of non-teachers, or, God forbid, lots of Sacramento DoE types is a second issue]

-Mark Roulo

Scott McCall said...

all this talk about cutting budgets, laying off people, and shutting down organizations because the state is running out of money.

know what i haven't heard yet? why dont the legislatures and representatives take a budget cut? why should all of us loose all our jobs, but they get a salary increase? why don't they offer to take a salary decrease?

i guess it's hard to when you're in charge of your own paycheck, coming from other peoples' wallets.

Ellen K said...

Maybe it's just me, but there's a huge amount of time wasted in our schools. I don't know about other states, but we have an entire week's worth of testing. And that doesn't even touch on the pull outs for every other tangent test in the books. Frankly, while elementary schools are more or less forced to be standardized in time and attendance days, high schools could go to a college system. That way, kids who want to accelerate their classes could do so and kids who fail would just have to sign up again. And if they did this truly like college, kids who needed to work could arrange a three day week. I could get used to that.

Polski3 said...

How about laying off those people at the State Dept. of Education whose job seems to be changing the standards in order to maintain their jobs, and all those expensive bodies in all those county offices of short, all those who suckle at the trough of educational funding but do not teach children.

ms-teacher said...

when the state of California took over my district a few years ago, one of the concessions that teachers took in order to help pay back our multi-million dollar loan, was a reduced benefits package. We went from full coverage to an 80/20 split (District paid 80%/employees paid 20% of benefits).

As a former employee who once worked for our now State Superintendent of Public Instruction when he was a state senator, my benefits package was one of the best I ever had as an employee anywhere. I also used to work for a major insurance company and trust when I say that my benefits package through them paled in comparison to the one I received when working as a state employee.

I'm curious as to how much the state of California could save if state employees were required to pay for a portion of their benefits package. After all, teachers in many districts in California already do so and we make a lot less than state employees (and I dare say that teaching is much harder than the position I held when working for O'Connell).