▼As LAUSD slips further and further down the political slippery slope and deeper and deeper into the educational quicksand – and some dream about how much better/simpler/whatever it would be if we only broke up LAUSD into more manageable parts – there might be some value into looking at how the next school district up the 101 is faring. - smf
LAS VIRGINES UNIFIED SUPERINTENDENT DON ZIMRING DESCRIBES CHALLENGES AT CHAMBER LUNCHEON
by Stephanie Bertholdo | Agoura Hills Acorn
Zimring was the keynote speaker at the Calabasas Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Sept. 27. He presented information on the state of
A vast majority of school funding comes from the state budget, not local taxes, Zimring said.
Education has taken hits from the state since 2002, Zimring said.
The fluctuations in local school funding are multifaceted.
But the threat of undermining Proposition 98, a constitutional guarantee of minimal education funding, prompted the district to pass Measure E, the $98 per year parcel tax that adds a little stability to school budgets.
The tax, Zimring said, brings in about $2 million worth of revenue to the schools each year.
When the measure was passed in 2004, state officials had reneged on Prop. 98 and Las Virgenes schools were shortchanged $2 million. The parcel tax is up for renewal on Nov. 6.
"We've gone up, we've gone down," Zimring said about funding. Last year, the legislature approved 24 new categories for funding. Every district received money for art, music and physical education, a big chunk of the funds being onetime only opportunities or grants. This year, no money is in the offing, he said.
"Clearly, the state has lost its focus," Zimring said.
But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has dubbed 2008 the "Year of Education." ("ED in 08" is being financed by the (Eli) Broad Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.) Zimring is taking a wait-and-see approach on the initiative.
"The economic engine has slowed," Zimring said. Federal education funding continues to decline, he said.
Zimring also discussed the flawed mechanism behind local school funding. Schools are paid according to student attendance on a daily basis. "It's tush and
Besides losing funding when a child is sick, half the school districts in
"(Young families) can't afford to live here," Zimring said, even though real estate prices seem to be coming down. Zimring said a UCLA study forecasts a steady decline in housing prices through mid-2009.
To illustrate his point, Zimring said if the district lost two students at every school for a total of 30 students, the school would continue to have set operating costs. Yet, the loss of 30 students translates into a loss of $180,000.
The rise of charter schools has also put a strain on public schools, Zimring said. Charter schools are public schools but the same funding mechanism applies and the district loses funding. The competition between charter schools and typical public schools can be the impetus for creative programs on both ends, Zimring said.
Had the Las Virgenes Community Learning Center opened as a charter school as first intended rather than an alternative elementary school within the district, millions of dollars would have been lost, Zimring said. "We created the school in 16 weeks," he said.
Although the Las Virgenes district earned the highest API (Academic Index Scores) in the region through standardized testing, Zimring said the district must continue to strive for improvement or face the possibility of state imposed penalties.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Zimring believes public schools need to keep up with the times and use technology to deliver the three R's. He said podcasts, greater access to the Internet on campus, and classes that resemble how students really live will be necessary. He wants students to feel connected to school, and expects to exploit every tech trick in the book to create stronger bonds between students and schools.
Measure G bonds will pay for expansion of the district's bandwidth, Zimring said.
"We need the capacity for the future, he said.
The $128 million bond measure is also paying for the two new Performing Arts centers, which are expected to be completed in 2009. The
Zimring has some creative ideas up his sleeve to attract and retain up-and-coming great teachers. He said he'd like to offer low-cost teacher housing on school-owned property. (The city of
Zimring hopes to expand the city school partnerships. The bond measure paid for new laptops, projectors, and other technology found in all Las Virgenes schools, but the cities of Agoura Hills, Calabasas,
In addition to city/school partnerships, Zimring hopes to partner with local businesses and industries.