Monday, June 02, 2008


By Sandra Thorstenson, Guest Columnist | Whittier daily News

Thorstenson is superintendent of the Whittier Union High School District.

Whittier is like any of our neighbors, (Burbank and South Pasadena come immediately to mind) small, conservative fiscally - able to have put some money away - that will weather this year's cuts but will go bankrupt next year without relief.  —smf

June 2, 2008 - California's fiscal structure is once again threatening our schools. As it stands today, Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed budget will be $4 billion short of what is needed just to maintain our current school programs.

But the problem with the state's education funding process is not unique to next year's budget or a specific elected official.

The problem is that the way education is funded in this state makes it impossible for even the most dedicated policymaker to find the money necessary to improve, or even sustain, California's education system. Unfunded mandates are undermining our ability to maintain a consistent instructional program. Setting high standards with accountability measures are noble and essential concepts.

Creating unrealistic requirements, without providing resources for implementation or ongoing support, is an ineffective way to run any organization, much less educate our children.

School finance should be reformed. For example, Proposition 13 was a well-intentioned instrument to limit taxation on California's homeowners, but it has had the unintended consequence of undermining our ability to maintain adequate resources and appropriately fund schools.

California, which was once in the top five in our country in education funding, now ranks 46th in the nation in per-pupil spending (adjusted for cost-of-living factors), trailing the national average by nearly $2,000 per student.

How can we be satisfied with that kind of inequity for California's kids?

I am not proposing that critical protections of Proposition 13 be taken away. But we should examine how it restricts a traditional source of local school funding and leads to heavier reliance on income and sales taxes which may be more volatile. Schools should be funded with a steady hand.

Locally, because the Whittier Union High School District has not yet experienced a decline in enrollment, we are not yet feeling the impact of the state's fiscal crisis to the same degree as most other school districts. Furthermore, we have prudently built reserves over the last several years as we prepare to weather the storm of the coming decline in enrollment.

None of our schools will have to face the possibility of school closure, but the eventual decline in enrollment will limit resources necessary to serve our students.

We have already made a 10 percent cut to our budget based on the projected reductions proposed by the governor for the remainder of the 2007-08 school year. If the proposed cuts for next year's budget pass, we will see a loss of $1million to $1.5 million in state revenue to our district in 2008-09.

On a positive note, WUHSD is one of few districts where teachers and staff have not been laid off this year. Our priority is to do everything we can to continue to keep our quality staff in their positions for next school year.

Every school in WUHSD has made significant gains over the last several years in improving student achievement. While our goal is to continue the momentum and reach for ever higher levels of academic achievement, the state budget crisis threatens to undermine that progress.

There is no question that no matter how disciplined and creative we are locally, restricting funds will absolutely hinder schools as we work to prepare students to be competitive in universities and in the job market.

Our state's budget process must be restructured so that education does not have to suffer the waves of fiscal uncertainty that have been a part of California's educational funding structure. Our future depends on it.

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