STATE ALLOCATION TO SCHOOLS IN DANGER: Sacramento in fear of not being able to send funds to School Districts due to lack of liquidity
Rubén Moreno | La Opinion
2008-10-06 -- The letter that governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sent to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, requesting $7 billion a federal loan has surprised more than one school district, not because of insufficient funds but as a result of the way these measures were taken in Sacramento.
“It is a letter conveying in its message our invitation and support of the federal bailout, otherwise the credit markets will close their door on us,” said Megan Reilly, Chief Financial Officer for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
At state government, sources confirm that the lack of liquidity California’s coffers, could stall or temporarily freeze the monthly allocation provided to school districts, and thus affect teachers’ salaries.
Representatives from the Teacher’s Union had not returned calls made by La Opinion by the close of this edition.
H.D. Palmer, spokesperson for the California Department of Finance, told this newspaper that the problem would start to become palpable by the end of this month if the state does not have the needed $7 billion by October 28th, at the latest, to cover public expenses until June of 2009.
However, among the school districts that provided interviews to La Opinion, there is another common denominator: optimism. And not so much because California could get the money requested, but because of President George W. Bush’s signing of the financial rescue plan yesterday.
“We are closely watching Sacramento, but we hope that this rescue plan helps bring stability to the credit problem that we’ve seen in the last couple of years,” said Ian Hanigan, spokesperson for the Irvine Unified School District (USDI).
Contrary to what one might expect, school districts remain unshaken -at least for now- even upon hearing that the state may run out of funds by the end of the month.
On the other hand, at this stage of the fiscal year and after the historical delay in the approval of the state budget, it is rare to find a school district that has not taken essential and judicious measures.
“If school districts do not receive funds from the state, it will does not mean that they will not be able to fulfill their obligations and pay the teachers. It would be more difficult, but they can look for other ways to find funds,” said Melvin Iizuka, LACOE's assistant director of business advisory services, “they could even ask for a loan from the County’s treasury.”
Most of the school districts ask for loans during the summer in order to mitigate expenses until they receive their allocation.
“In August we asked for a $500 million loan from the market and got a good interest rate,” said Reilly, “we have funds secured for teacher salaries through a two-month period. Hopefully after Christmas the state will not face liquidity problems, so it can stabilize the fund allocations to school districts.”
“If that were the case, we would have to ask for loans again in circumstances that would not be the most advisable in the market. Our advantage is that LAUSD has very strong credit, while the state is in the lows,” she added.
Jack O’Connell, state superintendent of public instruction, was not surprised by the letter, and he told La Opinion through a telephone interview that “we cannot wait until Christmas,” to solve the problem.
“Potentially, we face a crisis if school districts are not able to pay for salaries. Many school districts have already cut programs and asked for loans, which affects them. But I will do everything possible to resolve this problem in a timely fashion and ask everyone to carry out their duties, since teachers also have personal and financial responsibilities.” According to Sources form the Irvine school District, which requested a $16 million loan last July.
The same serenity permeates in the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), third among the state districts.
“We have not gotten word that the state may delay the monthly allotments,” USCLB officials said, as they recalled that “whenever problems have risen in the past, payment has not been interrupted,” additionally, districts are obligated to keep at least 2% of the budge on reserve.
“At the end of the road we hope that all problems get resolved. Simply put, it’s all about putting pressure to allow the market to thaw out,” Palmer said. But the question remains how will the market respond and when will that window open. We don’t know if the conditions and terms set forth before the crisis will remain the same.
“As of April, which is the most important month for us, we had not gotten most of the interests,” he added.
“For now, everybody can cover their needs; being able to say what will happen in the future would be great. The situation changes by the minute. Each district has to look out for itself, and when they draft their own budgets they must consider a loan request.” Iizuka added.
EDUCATION REFORM IS NECESSARY: Experts say that changes in the system are needed to improve academic results in California
Ruben Moreno | La Opinion
Some education analysts have started to point out the California must immediately embark on a profound reform in terms of education, if the golden state wants to guarantee increases in academic achievement and prepare for students for college.
Although in the last years some changes have been implemented, like the advent of a new database system, hiring quality educators and providing flexibility to schools, these are but some of the key issues that according to experts, must still become aligned.
Add to this a review of the assessments administered to students, as in the end results from the test batteries don’t always show viable figures and a correlation. The most immediate consequence is translates as “parents, educators and employees end up confused over the work that the schools are doing.”
“The means of evaluating students has been politicized,” pointed out Bruce Fuller, UC Berkley Professor of Education. “There is much pressure on making progress, but we need to know exactly what type of progress is being made, because there are barometers that show different pictures in terms of whether children are increasing or decreasing in their learning.”
Fuller pointed out that if we consider last year’s standards, 45% of California students would be at proficient levels, but that figure would drop to 25% if measured by the federal patterns.
Jack O’Connell, Superintendent of Public Instruction, has reiterated numerous times that the state has established a higher standard than the rest of the country’s in order to prepare its students to face a global economy. Officials from his office had not responded to our calls by the close of this edition.
According to Data form the California Department of Education, last year 51% of the fourth grade students were reading at grade level. On the other hand, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), yielded a rate of 23% for that same category.
For Patricia Gandara, professor co-director of The Civil Rights Project at UCLA, California is currently far from reaching the federal goal of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Although, she pointed out “it would be essential to establish another more realistic goal, because we’ve never had individuals who are proficient at everything,” the delay caused by minorities particularly affects these achievement figures at state level.
Although academic disparities among minority groups are similar throughout the nation, the problem, according to experts, is that those groups represent the majority of California students, although the figures may differ in other states.
“Latinos and African-Americans are already behind in the first grade, and the gap continues until they get to college. Greater effort should be applied from the beginning, establishing high quality preschools and continuing from that platform, with equality toward students,” said Gandara. “Additionally, many parents have not finished middle school, and they have to learn how to advocate for their children and to be involved in their education.”
State governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, called 2008 the year in education, although for this UCLA professor, “a long time prior to the crisis people knew that 2008 could not be categorized as such because there are structural shortcomings in the educational system.”
According to a statement issued by the governor’s office to La Opinion, “California’s educational system needs structural reform,” Although Schwarzenegger believes that the “real education reform is difficult to achieve in the fiscal environment the state is currently undergoing,” he also argues that “money alone can’t solve our challenges at schools.”
“Somebody has to pay attention in a sustainable manner to a long term reform. We need to continue this agenda of reforms, but even California has failed to provide schools or parents with the necessary information, or to report on what it is currently doing,” mentioned David Plank, executive director for the Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE).
Said office, where scholars from UCLA, Berkeley and Stanford Universities participate, submitted a report last Thursday in Sacramento which assessed the State’s educational problems and possible solutions. It will then be forwarded to Legislators.