Wednesday, April 09, 2008


 Steve Lopez

I can't help but think about the impact of budget cuts at schools where there's not a chance of parents raising anywhere near $180,000.



April 9, 2008 - Twenty-five years ago, I had a child enter kindergarten.
And now here I go again.

Yes, I take full responsibility for my actions. I just never imagined, as a native of a state with a once-great reputation for the quality of its public schools, that I'd attend a meeting like the one I attended Monday night at Ivanhoe Elementary in Silver Lake. That's where my daughter will start school in September.

The auditorium was packed; the mood somber. About 200 parents had come to hear what everyone knew would be disturbing news. An anticipated $180,000 budget shortfall might well cost three critically important Ivanhoe educators their positions at the school, though they might be transferred elsewhere.

The parents group at the school had summoned families to tell them the news. And to present an alternative: a public education that would no longer be free.

Get out your checkbooks, parents were told. All those wrapping-paper sales and pancake fundraisers wouldn't be enough. We could either pony up some hard cash, or see Ivanhoe's standing as one of L.A. Unified's best schools threatened.

"We shouldn't be here tonight," parent Perry Herman told the crowd. "Our nation chooses to bail out investment houses rather than insuring our children."

But here we were, with the Friends of Ivanhoe urging parents to pay whatever they could to cover the shortfall and save the jobs of math coach and academic advisor Lynda Rescia, technology coordinator Carlos Hernandez and literacy coach Mary Frances Smith-Reynolds.

"She knows the reading strengths and weaknesses of every child in this school," a parent named Nancy Berglass said of Smith-Reynolds, praise that was echoed by parents and teachers for both of the others.

A parent across the aisle from me wiped away tears. So did a teacher who had to interrupt her own tribute to Rescia, Hernandez and Smith-Reynolds.

The principal, Jumie Sugahara, told me she hadn't yet received final budget numbers from district headquarters and couldn't say for sure how bad the hit would be. But the parents group did some math and decided to start the fundraising drive now, assuming Ivanhoe and other high-performing schools would get bigger cuts than schools that have greater challenges.

Pay $25, if that's all you can afford, Herman said. But he pointed up to a screen encouraging parents to dig a little deeper. Those three jobs can be saved, he said, if 80 parents contribute $250 apiece, 75 contribute $500, 50 fork over $1,000, 20 give $2,000 and six bust the bank with $5,000 contributions.

Four other L.A. Unified schools have already gone this route, Herman said, citing Canyon, Wonderland Avenue, Carpenter Avenue and Mar Vista.

If anyone in the audience was shaken by the reality of public school finance in the coming year, Berglass said, they'd better brace themselves for what might follow.

"The cuts we are talking about are just the tip of the iceberg," Berglass said, explaining that LAUSD has to cut $100 million districtwide this year, but may have to trim an additional $350 million in the two years after that.

She urged parents to tap grandparents, their religious congregations and their trust funds.

For several reasons, I find this all rather extraordinary. I feel more than a little lucky to live in a good neighborhood with a great public school that parents are passionate about. At the same time, I can't help but think about the impact of budget cuts at schools where there's not a chance of parents raising anywhere near $180,000.

At nearby Micheltorena Street School, where more than 90% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, the principal told me that of course she can't match that kind of parental support. She's hoping that given the greater needs of her students, she'll be spared harsh cuts. But like other principals, she doesn't yet know how bad the news will be.

And the cuts were initiated, as you know, by a man who has tried to pass himself off as the education governor -- a man who doesn't have to worry about the impact of budget cuts on his own children. They go to private school.

David Goldberg, an Ivanhoe parent and an official with the teachers union, stood up and told parents that in addition to opening their checkbooks and fighting for their school, they needed to participate "in a broader movement that rejects all cuts."

Goldberg said he was a student at Micheltorena in 1977, when voters approved Proposition 13, saving homeowners billions in the coming years but delivering one blow after another to funding for education and other public services.

If corporate property taxes were reassessed upon sale, as are homes, it would help fill the budget gap, Goldberg said. And if the governor hadn't scaled back the car registration fee, parents might not be forced to start paying for schools that have always been free.

Berglass suggested that parents take the rebates promised by President Bush and donate them to Ivanhoe. Not a bad idea, but when will we ever stop playing this shell game in which politicians rise to power promising prosperity without pain, even as working folks and retirees pay through the nose?

After hearing how deeply parents and teachers care about Ivanhoe, I was all the more convinced to write a check and send my daughter there.

I was sitting with Jeff Kelly, who moved into a costly fixer-upper last year just to be in the Ivanhoe neighborhood so he could avoid the cost of private school. He said he'll pony up too, although on principle he's conflicted. And so will Rob Schnapf, who noted that if he pays $1,000 a year for two his two children, it's a fraction of what he'd pay at private school.

Parent Brigid LaBonge said the take for the evening was $30,000, with more expected soon in pledge envelopes parents picked up at the door.

Only $150,000 to go.


Welcome back Steve to the alternate reality of kindergarten parenthood. We (and your daughter) are so lucky to have you writing to us in The Times of the experience - in the tradition of the late Jack Smith and his interaction with Mount Washington School - Ivanhoe's crosstown rival at least in terms of property values and API scores. 

The concerns you express above cut beyond the flesh and straight to the heart and bone of public education in California.

The numbers - as dark as they seem - quoted by your parent leader are very optimistic. If the governor's proposed budget cuts are allowed to stand (and they must not be!) the cuts in LAUSD this year approach half a billion dollars - that's $750. per student, whether at Ivanhoe or King Middle School or Marshall HS where your daughter is bound -- or at the most challenged school in the most challenged neighborhood in LA. Or Compton. Or in the far reaches of Yolo County.

Parent donations, sale of signage on the schoolyard fence (one of Ivanhoe's strategies), bake sales and PTA gift wrap sales cannot make up the deficit. Not at Ivanhoe or Mount Washington or Michaeltorena  -- or any school in California.   - smf

Ponying up for a public education - Los Angeles Times

No comments: