Tuesday, May 28, 2013

TREADING WATER IS NOT AN OPTION: LAUSD needs a “repair” budget — not a “status quo” one

Remember when Mayor Tony and The Forces of ®eform painted everyone who opposed their version of A Great New Wonderful Tomorrow as champions of the status quo?

That was then; this is now.

Now they are running the show and the despised status quo has become the new normal:

The proposed LAUSD 2013-14 Budget

    There is no new program reduction in 2013-14. The Status Quo is maintained at 2012-13 levels.”

by UTLA President Warren Fletcher from the May United Teacher | http://bit.ly/11wq9JG

17 May 2013  ::  Warning: The next thing you read is going to make you mad. Superintendent John Deasy and his Beaudry Bureaucrats have put together a proposed budget for LAUSD for the 2013-14 school year. They are unabashedly trumpeting it as a great victory for students and schools. To hear them describe their proposed spending plan, you would think that they had pulled off a financial miracle and that every teacher, student, and parent in Los Angeles should be happy with the result.

The so-called good news in the proposed budget can be described in two sentences, pulled directly from one of the budget documents presented to the Board of Education:  “There is no new program reduction in 2013-14. The Status Quo is maintained at 2012-13 levels.”

That’s it—that’s the good news.

Last year, when we teachers and health and human services professionals worked long hours to secure the passage of Proposition 30, we expected better than that. When parents and community members voted to tax themselves for the sake of the public schools, they expected better too. The promise of Prop. 30 was that we would have the funds to repair the damage that schools had sustained during the past five years of recession and state budget cuts. Announcing that there will be no new program reductions is not enough. While it was always understood that repairing the budgetary and educational damage inflicted since 2008 would probably take more than a single year to accomplish, no one imagined that the only positive effect we would see from Prop. 30 would be a moratorium on new cuts. That’s not repairing schools. That’s just treading water.

Among some of the unacceptable “status quo” situations the District plans to continue in 2013-14:

  • Adult Education: In 2012-13, more than half of the state funds dedicated to Adult Ed in Los Angeles were redirected to the general fund. This resulted in massive closures of programs and many hundreds of lost Adult teaching positions (far and away the largest number of jobs lost in the 2012-13 RIF cycle). With the passage of Prop. 30, many people assumed that most or all of those redirected funds would return, and that Adult Ed programs and teaching positions would be restored. However, for 2013-14, the superintendent again plans to “redirect” the majority of funds away from those classrooms and teachers. Continuing a 63 percent funding cut from one year to the next solves nothing.
  • Outlandish and dangerous class sizes: Throughout the recession, the District has saved money by laying off teachers and boosting class size. There is no question that this has inflicted severe educational harm all across the District. One reason that voters approved Prop. 30 was to remedy this. While nearly all classes and levels have been affected, there is probably no better example of excessive class size run amok than secondary Physical Education, where class sizes now routinely exceed 50 or even 60 students. A “status quo” District budget means a continuation of these levels for 2013-14. A “repair” budget would consciously and intentionally apply newly available funds to lowering those class sizes. And in the bargain, the 96 fully credentialed P.E. teachers currently on the RIF rehire list could be brought back to contract status. This example is equally applicable for the 109 English teachers, the 59 health teachers, and the 49 art and music teachers on those RIF rehire lists (among many other subjects).
  • Counseling services: A “status quo” budget for the 2013-14 school year would amount to a betrayal of every statement that the superintendent has made about the importance of college readiness for secondary students, and of the importance of student mental and emotional health at all levels. Currently, 135 permanent counselors (secondary, elementary, and PSA) remain on the RIF rehire list, while high schools and middle schools grapple with sky-high counselor-to-student ratios, and at all levels, the most at-risk students suffer.

We will be told, over and over again, by the superintendent and his senior staff, that continuing the budgetary “status quo” is necessary. As a 29-year LAUSD teacher, I can tell you that there has never been a situation when the District ever did not plead poverty, regardless of how much money was available. But this year, the reports from Sacramento tell a different story.

On May 14, the Governor released his “May Revision” of the 2013-14 state budget. According to the respected Sacramento website EdSource:

Gov. Jerry Brown proposed Tuesday to direct all of the $2.8 billion extra in revenue that the state expects to receive this year to K-12 schools and community colleges…

EdSource also reported:

Brown would use the extra Prop. 98 money next year in two ways that will benefit districts: Speed up the payoff of deferrals by an extra $1.6 billion. Deferrals are year-late payments owed to districts that forces them to borrow money to make payroll, and have created havoc for some districts. Two years ago, deferrals totaled nearly $10 billion; administration is projecting they will be paid off by 2014-15, one year ahead of schedule.

While the final state budget will not be adopted until mid-June, the combination of new revenues from Proposition 30, additional lift from the slowly improving economy, and a governor and Legislature finally focused on funding the schools has come together to create the conditions necessary to begin in earnest the task of repairing our schools. It is a rare opportunity, and it is important that we seize it.

And in a very hopeful sign, the School Board is beginning to behave like, just possibly, they understand the urgency of beginning to repair the system. On May 14, Board member Bennett Kayser spoke eloquently about the need for the District to get its priorities straight and to quickly and effectively put new money where it is needed, right away, for 2013-14. That is not a surprise. Kayser was a career classroom teacher, and he is never shy about advocating for the classroom. What was pleasantly surprising was that, when Kayser made a motion to convene a special Board Meeting in early June to discuss these very immediate priorities, a majority of the Board agreed to such a meeting. While this is a small step on the School Board’s part, it signals that, perhaps, the Board members are coming to understand that keeping the promise of Proposition 30 is their job too.

The budgetary decisions that are made in the next few weeks will profoundly affect what kind of educational opportunities L.A.’s kids will have for several years to come. We cannot allow the current degraded levels of funding and staffing at our schools to become the “new normal.” Our students deserve better.

No comments: