Saturday, February 12, 2011

California's Chickens Are Coming Home To Roost, And They're Camping Out In My Eaves

Thursday after school we had a staff meeting, and the topic was the district budget for next year. Property taxes don't fund schools in California, all funding comes from the state; so when Uncle Sunny (the state equivalent of Uncle Sam?) has an empty wallet, every district in the state feels it.

California's profligacy has been, to use a popular term, "unsustainable" for decades, and we seem to have reached the cliff. We've known this day was coming, but politicians and the voting public refused to do anything about it until we reached a crisis, and even now there are some who refuse to accept reality.

My school district has a budget of about $365 million dollars a year. In the best-case scenario, one which involves a state-wide special election in June that passes some tax extensions, my district will have to cut only about $37 million. If the tax extensions don't pass, the number skyrockets up to over $50 million.

If it hasn't happened already, the state Board of Education is expected to allow districts to shorten the next school year from 180 to 175 days. March 15th, the day state law requires districts to notify teachers who might be laid off the next year, is expected to be bloody, with over a third of our district's teachers' potentially receiving layoff notices. Negotiations are currently underway regarding furlough days and pay cuts.

It's a good thing I chose to go to Iceland this year, because I won't be able to afford to next year.

California, like the federal government, doesn't have an income problem. It has a spending problem. You can't go buy a house in Beverly Hills, shower yourself in minks and diamonds, and then complain that your boss doesn't pay you enough. You have to look at how much money you have and make, and budget accordingly. Our state government is full of departments and agencies (and I'm not sure that list is exhaustive) that are nice-to-haves when time is good, but absolutely silly in an economic environment such as this. But it's easier to cut the education budget. I wonder how much welfare will be cut? California has 10% of the country's population but a full third of the country's welfare recipients--might you wonder why that is? Will we continue to spend money on bullet trains from nowhere to nowhere, or on embryonic stem cell research?

Now I'm not saying that the education budget shouldn't be cut. When education makes up half the state budget, the budget cannot be balanced without touching education. I get that. But is there not one department or agency that could be abolished in its entirety? I don't expect there will be. In other words, I doubt our legislature and governor will identify so much as a single redundant agency or department whose mission could be absorbed by another agency, much less just abolish one outright as not critical to the operation of the state. Most will probably agree that education is a critical state function.

So, furlough days. Between teacher work days and staff development days, there are (I think) 5 days right there our district could cut without affecting students. Cutting staff development days just takes money out of my pocket, but cutting teacher work days requires me to work for free--because the work still has to get done. For example, we have 2 such days immediately before school starts, and these days include staff meetings as well as getting our classrooms set up for the new year. Those activities will have to be done, whether or not we get paid for them. Another such day is the day immediately after first semester final exams. The students get Friday off and we teachers have a day to grade finals and get grades inputted. That will still have to be done, whether or not there's a teacher work day allotted for it.

If they shorten the school year 5 days, those would be another 5 days they wouldn't pay me for. 10 days total out of 185. Then tack on a pay cut on top of that. Yes, I definitely should start working on that master's degree!

So personally, I'm looking at having to shoulder some of California's economic burden. Of course I don't like it--who would?--but I recognize that it's necessary if California is to get its fiscal house in order. I try to look at it this way: my retirement depends on the financial solvency of this state, so let's get that fixed!

Economically, the 2011-2012 school year is not going to be a good one for me. My hope is that it will be a good start for California.


KauaiMark said...

"...budget of about $365 million dollars"

Wow! A million dollars a day! That's something to think about, eh?


Anonymous said...


We don't know how to evaluate the size of the budget until we know how many kids are in class?


-Mark Roulo

Darren said...

I believe we're down to 48,000 students in the district. We high school teachers can have no more than 165 students (avg of 33 per class), with a maximum of 36 in any particular class.

Steve USMA '85 said...

I feel your pain. Right now us Federal Employees are the punching bag du jour on Capitol Hill. No pay raise for two years minimum with talk of extending it for five years. Talk of up to 10 furlough days this year. Cutting the work force by at least 10%.

On the surface, I can handle this, I know I need to do my part. However, if they are going to make me help balance the budget, they better also do some REAL balancing. Saving a few million on Fed salaries is a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be done. Serious budget cuts need to accompany cuts that are serious to my life.

If California makes serious cuts to your salary but doesn't do the rest to ensure your retirement is solvent, I'm sure you wouldn't be too happy either.

Darren said...

Steve, you are entirely correct. As I said, I understand why I'm going to have to take a pay cut, but I want some genuine fixin' going on in the big white building downtown, too.

Coach Brown said...

Welcome to my world for the last couple of years.