State schools chief delivers dire message to local officials
By Caroline An, Staff Writer | Pasadena Star-News
5 Feb 2009 - PASADENA - Saying the public school system is in a "precarious state," California's chief or public education Wednesday urged area school leaders to consider asking property owners for help.
Speaking at a town hall meeting, dubbed "Save Our Schools," in Pasadena, state Superintendent of Public Education Jack O'Connell said parcel taxes, which must be approved by voters, might be the solution to cover local school budget shortfalls.
"More school districts are now looking at parcel taxes. Voters should be given the option of approving parcel taxes to pass to fund schools," O'Connell told about 20 20 local superintendents and school board members who met at McKinley School.
He said he supports legislation to lower the threshold for passing parcel taxes from the current two-thirds majority to 55 percent of voters.
In November, voters in various school districts across the state passed 17 parcel taxes, a sign that residents are committed to preserving their local public school systems, O'Connell said.
San Marino Unified School District is the most-recent district in the San Gabriel Valley seeking a parcel tax. The district plans to put the tax on the May ballot, asking voters to approve a parcel tax of $795 per home to stave off cuts to its academic and enrichment programs.
Alhambra Unified School District Superintendent Donna Perez said her district also faces a budget shortfall of $14.7 million over the next 18 months. She said officials are looking at all avenues to raise funds and save programs, including a parcel tax.
"We are looking for flexibilities. We want to keep class-size reduction because it is a priority for us," Perez said.
O'Connell predicted that, even after the Legislature approves a budget and the governor signs it, "there will be no winners in education."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed budget calls for $11 billion in education cuts, meaning increased class sizes, teacher layoffs and the elimination of intervention programs that have proven successful in helping struggling students, he said.
Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Darlene Robles said the county could lose $3.8 billion. She added she's spoken to numerous superintendents, who say there is virtually nothing left cut from their local budgets.
"We are tired of the budget rollercoaster," Robles said.
Several school officials wanted to know whether categorical funding - money targeted for specific programs or student populations - can be used for other purposes, like class-size reduction. The governor's proposal includes some leeway on how that money can be used, O'Connell said.
Some officials say the class-size reduction program should be altered - from 20 students per teacher to 23 per teacher, which would save millions of dollars.
To help districts save money, O'Connell said his office is suspending non-required compliance visits, in which state officials visit individual school sites to inspect programs, for one year. The visits cost districts money, because officials must prepare for them.
Instead, O'Connell said, schools should focus on students' academic progress.
State schools superintendent rallies school leaders to oppose cuts
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez | KPCC Public Radio 89.3FM
February 04, 2009
During a town hall meeting in Pasadena today, L.A. County school district leaders warned that students would bear the brunt of budget cuts proposed by Sacramento lawmakers. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: State Schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell told school district superintendents and school board members that planned multi-billion dollar cuts would launch some unwelcome changes.
Superintendent Jack O'Connell: The proposal to reduce the school year, the learning opportunities for our students, by five days, I believe needs to be rejected.
Guzman-Lopez: O'Connell said that students in some industrialized countries are ahead of California students, because their academic year is 40 days longer.
Bob Bruesh, who's on the board of the Garvey School District in Rosemead, said that his students need access to computer technology, and that budget cuts would slow that effort.
Bob Bruesh: We are faced, in the near future, with an extremely large technology gap between rich and poor school districts. We're looking at each of our schools costing us upwards of $800 thousand per school to redo the electricity, just so they can use the technology.
Guzman-Lopez: Maureen Carlson is part of a foundation that raised $9 million this year for Pasadena Unified. She doesn't think there's enough public outcry to convince lawmakers to spare schools from the budget ax.
Maureen Carlson: There's a collection of the population that doesn't see care of the schools as their personal responsibility.
Guzman-Lopez: Carlson and others at the town hall meeting urged lawmakers to lower the percentage of votes required to pass municipal parcel taxes. That would make it easier for cities to raise money for schools, they argued.
School district superintendents plan a rally on the steps of the state capitol next week to oppose education budget cuts.