KSBW-TV story highlights threats to parcel tax-funded small class sizes, art and music

Watch the KSBW story

Of course there’s more to the story—read on for context and a quick poll

In the week following the distribution of pink slips to Santa Cruz City Schools teachers, worry has set in as families learn that beloved teachers and treasured programs are at risk.
Pernicious Pink Slips

Pink slips happen for three reasons: the legally-required March 15 deadline for preliminary notification to employees, state requirements for school districts to submit balanced budgets and the proposed state budget.  The demoralizing result is that districts hand out more pink slips than are actually needed in order to ensure maximum flexibility later on, as today’s soft budget numbers will become more certain.

The number of pink slips issued was based on the need to cut $5.2 million from the 2010-11 school year, an 8% cut. The equivalent of 80 full time K-12 permanent and temporary positions were eliminated; the actual count of individual pink slips is far greater due to the number of part-time and shared positions in our schools.  The school district has until May 15 to rescind or make permanent the pink slip notifications. Because it’s unlikely that the state budget will be finalized by that time, the district will base its math on the Governor’s so-called “May Revise” budget (which reflects April 15 income tax receipts and the latest economic indicators) and the outcome of pending union-school district negotiations over a retirement incentive and proposed reduction of the school year by 7 days (5 of which are classroom days). While there is some hope that state revenues will increase slightly and/or legislators will restore some of the $1.2 billion in education cuts already made, without success at the bargaining table the outlook is bleak.

Why a shorter school year is an acceptable alternative

Most parents and educators agree that our school years and school days should be longer, not shorter. Unfortunately, the State of California does not share this perspective. The 2009-10 state budget not only cut funds to school districts, it included the provision for a reduction of the school year by 5 days, from 180 to 175 instructional days and funded accordingly.  However, the legislature stopped short of mandating the shorter school year, forcing each district to negotiate with its teachers unions to teach fewer days and accept what amounts to a 2.5% pay cut.  In Santa Cruz City Schools, those 5 days add approximately $1 million back into the general fund, saving jobs and softening the impact on class size as well as student services and programs like counselors, arts & music. The district’s adopted Fiscal Solvency Plan cannot take into account pending negotiations and as a result, proposes deep cuts to program and services, yet maintains a 180-day school year. Should negotiations prove successful, our students may have 5 fewer days in the classroom, but the 175 days they do have would be full and enriching.  This trade-off is not unique to our schools; it is happening in San Jose and in districts all over the state.

Parcel Tax Funding for Programs

In the Santa Cruz City Schools district, we are extremely fortunate to have three parcel taxes contributing over $3 million combined to help maintain small class sizes in our elementary schools and fund counselors, libraries and support strong arts and music programs. The district’s Fiscal Solvency Plan, recently approved, proposes deep cuts to the district’s state-funded share of the programs supported by the parcel taxes, leaving those programs nearly entirely dependent on parcel taxes—which, technically, are temporary because they must be renewed.

It’s a risky prospect: placing core services in the hands of voters who may or may not feel their investment has been adequately managed and protected over time. For example, should Measures A & B-2 fail to be renewed in 2012 (when they expire), the programs they fund – arts, music, librarians and counselors – would be gutted.  And Measure P, which augments Measures A & B-2 by providing for small class sizes in elementary grades, sunsets in 2017.

In addition, the proposed district-wide retirement package requires a permanent increase in K-3 class sizes from 20-1 to 23-1 (resulting from the lay-off of approximately 10 elementary teachers), which violates the ballot argument that helped propel Measure P to a victory of 80% approval in 2008.

These are the concerns that are being discussed in PTA meetings, along the soccer sidelines and at the dinner table throughout our community, as evidenced in Monday’s KSBW-TV story.  Parents, students and educators are expected to address school board trustees at this week’s school board meeting, Wednesday, 3/24 at 6:30p.m., at Santa Cruz High School.

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