Posts Tagged ‘budget cuts’

Cutting budgets

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

School districts in Colorado are again cutting budgets.  Jefferson County Schools, the largest district, will cut somewhere between $35 million this new part of the school year and $15 million for 2012-13.  The District has already cut about $70 million over the previous two years.  The operating budget that ran at $650 million in 2008-2009 is now down to about $580 million and dropping.

The District has engaged in a proactive process in its budget work.  The County Financial Officer (CFO) consistently uses conservative numbers to calculate budgetary possibilities.  That tack helped the District build a large surplus in the mid 2000’s that has buffered some cuts.  Even so, the drop in tax dollars has been relentless, and reserves are tapped.

The District developed a “Budget Academy,” a six week program that covered all aspects of its budget.  Over 100 people participated, patiently listening to reports from district personnel on facilities, transportation, athletics, instruction, technology, compensation, health benefits, and pensions.

These people then became involved in Budget Work Groups that focused on sections of the budget, scouring departments and school budgets for any excess flesh.  District personnel took the first whacks, reviewed the whacks with citizens, and tried to mitigate cuts for classrooms.

Citizens and employees completed an online survey asking where cuts should occur.  The cry went out, “Get rid of administrators.”  One person suggested getting rid of buildings as well, saying a tent, children, teacher, and blackboard are enough.  Suggestions included expanding transportation walking distances another half mile (up hill both ways), increasing fees for athletics and other after school activities, trimming librarians and school counselors, and getting rid of music and arts in elementary school.  Long ago the district eliminated after school athletics for middle school.

What the District hasn’t done yet is decide where it needs to hold the line.  It hasn’t made triage decisions.  So, if the District decides it must get all third graders reading at grade level, how can it fund that decision?  Or if the district needs to put money into middle school to keep those kids on track, how can it fund that need?

The District hasn’t explored whether it’s possible to reduce costs and increase teacher income by asking some teachers to take on more students, pay for the extra work, but save money by reducing the staffing.

The harsh recession continues to take its toll.  We may not know the full impact for 12 years when today’s kindergartners are seniors.  If drop out levels are high in 2024, and lots of graduates need remediation in college, we can look back to their early years and know that the recession of 2008-2012 wreaked havoc on our ability to deliver the excellence kids deserve no matter what year they’re born.

Buddy, Can You Spare Another Dime?

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Each article about prisons brings to mind “at risk” school kids who could benefit from the millions of dollars spent on building and staffing one more prison facility. In 2011 California needs to consolidate programs to address budget problems, but like many states, it has a crazy quilt of laws about prison sentences. When the quarreling stops, state prisoners will be sent to county facilities after the decision to reduce prison populations from the U. S. Supreme Court.

Look back two years.

“California Passes Bill Addressing Prisons,” by Solomon Moore, The New York Times, September 13, 2009, is another in the unending line of commentary on the cost of  felonies and misdemeanors, building another prison, overcrowded prison facilities, and court mandates to reduce prison populations.

Make no mistake.  Major criminals should be incarcerated, though FBI statistics in “Violent crime falls sharply…” by Devlin Barrett, Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle, September 15, 2009, show that killings, for example, decreased 3.9% in 2008.  Still, the laws that send men and women to jail for petty theft or small drug sales, as if they had robbed the federal gold depository or had lorded over a multi-state drug cartel, need reform.

Know why?

Students “at risk” need every dime of help they can get.  And they need every adult who can be rehabilitated to support their children.  In California $7000 a year (in 2009 down to $6000) is allocated per student attending public schools.  At the same time, an average of $49,000 per year is spent for each prison inmate (current prison population-167,000).  However, the bill just signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger will release 16,000 inmates without violent records or serious offenses through changes in parole regulations and early-release rules.

Sound better?  Let’s see…

Studies (see post 6/30/09) have shown that for an “at risk” student to succeed, attendance is important, adequate safe facilities are necessary, highly-qualified teachers must be hired, adequate books and other resources are required, assessment and time/money for analysis of student academic needs is mandated, tutoring and before or after school programs should be provided, and parent commitment to encourage the student’s achievement must be supported.  Not counting the funds for a district to oversee each school’s budget in order to get every bit of use from each thin dime.  All that for $7000 a year per child in California (2011 investment).

Now for each person spending the year in prison, food must be provided; health care, a safe facility, rehabilitation services should be allocated; and prison guards and administrators must be paid to run the facility.  All for $49,000 a year per inmate.

Rarely is a word printed about any funded services to guide inmates ready to be released into programs that will help them return to their family responsibilities.  In fact, the local public school is held responsible for guiding parents: providing counseling, direction to family health services, and parent education so they can support their children’s academic success.  Again, unless the school receives a grant or qualifies for Title I monies, all those services are included in the $7000 per child per year (2011).

Rethink priorities.

Along with the entire financial mess that California has brought upon itself, how different groups in this state are supported financially must be carefully reviewed.

In the article “California’s costly budget decisions,” by Larry N. Gerston, San Francisco Chronicle, September 14, 2009, we are reminded that budget-cutting at the expense of students, who with education get jobs and enter professions, leaves them to drop out.  How many will think the only way to get money is to rob, sell drugs, or steal cars, eventually landing in prison at $49,000 a year?  Instead, how about spending “the fraction it might take to keep them in school?”

In addition, wouldn’t it be better to spend money on community colleges, half-way houses, drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities for no other reason than to teach paroled adults the skills to help their children succeed in school.

Sanity must return to California’s finances.  What teacher wants to grovel, asking, buddy, can you spare a dime?

When budgets are resolved, what do schools take up next?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Suppose the California legislature agrees to resolve the most current budget deficit of $25.4 billion as of January 11, 2011. California’s Governor Jerry Brown presented his administration’s budget this week. It includes big budget cuts (but not to K-12 budgets), as well as temporary tax extensions to be voted on in the Spring.

Suppose the California legislature agrees to revise the state and local tax system which had become so unfair that Proposition 13 passed easily in 1978. The fiscal trouble that existed then has increased many times over as the state and local governments vie for revenues.

Suppose  California citizens agree that all services cannot be paid for individually or by initiative.  Some, like fire protection, police protection, infrastructure, parks, recreation programs, and schools are better provided by communal funds.

If all that were agreed, some schools are still found in very poor areas-both urban and rural. Those schools need to be turned around. It’s not easy.

Mass Insight Education and Research Institute has laid out the steps to take. See www.massinsight.org.

Matteson School District (SD 162) in Illinois under Superintendent Dr. Blondean Y. Davis has given an overview of steps taken to improve student success. See www.edline.net/pages/Matteson_School_District_162

Success For All is used often, especially in eastern urban areas, as a specific reform for reading/language arts.  SFA lays out school-wide steps to make sure students learn to read and understand the meaning of text.  See www.sfa.org.

Edsource’s February 2010 report “Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better” explains steps that help adolescent students succeed.  See www.edsource.org.

Suppose schools began to turn around. What’s the next step?

Testing and the tests schools use is a huge complaint, whether the scores are used to assess student success or to evaluate teachers or to determine school quality.

The first problem is the kind of test: standardized, criterion referenced, short formative tests several times a year, one summative test a year; tests provided with software.  Who decides which kind of test to use: the state, the local school board, the federal Department of Education, the publishing companies of the United States?

Here’s another list of questions to resolve: which standards are tested; what do tests measure; how do results affect promotion, teacher evaluation, and accreditation for higher education?  See the Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline program for an in-depth analysis of testing issues.

In education, the biggest concern is the quality of each school.  Does a single test determine all of the school qualities that establish success?

One statement can be made: once the budget crisis is resolved, state departments of education must analyze the tests they use. Successful schools depend on the steps taken.

Who’s going to take the tiger by the tail, the bull by the horns, or shoulder Sisyphus’ burden?

Same old, same old won’t do

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Same old, same old won’t do for public education anymore

School boards will be under tremendous pressure for the next three to four years to meet two seemingly contradictory goals:  cut budgets and improve school achievement.

Schools can produce revenue

I submit that schools should add one more goal:  increase revenue.  If districts can increase revenue when tax receipts are down, maybe they can also make forward strides on student proficiency.

School buildings, especially those with dwindling student enrollment, can be more efficiently used to bring broad-based education to whole communities, not just kids in the communities.  With the push for high school kids to take community college courses, and with more adults needing to train for new careers, public schools become an ideal place to institute post-12 education.

I’m suggesting public school-community college partnerships to reduce new construction and to create satellite delivery systems for face-to-face higher education.  Community colleges wouldn’t have to raise money for new construction, and public schools can gain revenue from leasing rooms and advanced technology.

Adult learning in public schools can help kids achieve

A cheap way to increase student achievement is to provide middle and high school courses to adults, particularly parents with kids in school.  Math is taught differently today from 1980.  If parents take a beginning algebra course today, about two weeks ahead of their children, for example, they can be much more instrumental in helping their kids learn.  And we can charge parents for the opportunity.

How can this happen?  As school districts develop online classes for kids, those classes can also be offered to parents, at a price.  Why not?  If a high school class that a teacher wants to offer doesn’t fill, maybe that class should be offered also to the adult community, which would create an interesting mix of adults and adolescents.  Maybe an adult wants to learn the physics he or she never took, or study a foreign language.  Or revisit the classics in literature.  Or relearn grammar.  Or take art.

Online courseware swapping can save everyone $$

School districts can save money and improve education outcomes by trading online courseware.  If one district has great science courseware and another district has great writing courseware, why not swap and trade?  This method saves money for everyone.

Put post-12 remedial education online through high schools

Currently, community and four year colleges do a lot of remedial skill building for students.  Why not bring some of that work back to high schools using online courses to deliver the services.  This may be a place where state or federal funding could intervene to support remedial programs and allow public schools to more expansively use their courseware.

New to a school board in a large Colorado district, my goal will be to think outside of the traditional boundaries, and I hope those ideas will bring more money and better learning to public schools.

Will let you know as changes move forward.

Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

With each article about prisons, I think of “at risk” school kids who could benefit from the millions of dollars spent on building and staffing one more prison facility because California, like many states, has a crazy quilt of laws about prison sentences.

“California Passes Bill Addressing Prisons,” by Solomon Moore, The New York Times, September 13, 2009, is another in the unending line of commentary on the cost of  felonies and misdemeanors, building another prison, overcrowded prison facilities, and court mandates to reduce prison populations.

Make no mistake.  Major criminals should be incarcerated, though FBI statistics in “Violent crime falls sharply…” by Devlin Barrett, Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle, September 15, 2009, show that killings, for example, decreased 3.9% in 2008.  Still, the laws that send men and women to jail for petty theft or small drug sales, as if they had robbed the federal gold depository or had lorded over a multi-state drug cartel, need reform.

Know why?

CA spends $6000 a year for each of these public school students

CA spends $6000 a year for each of these public school students

Students “at risk” need every dime of help they can get.  And they need every adult who can be rehabilitated to support their children.  In California $7000 a year (in 2009 down to $6000) is allocated per student attending public schools.  At the same time, an average of $49,000 per year is spent for each prison inmate (current prison population-167,000).  However, the bill just signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger will release 16,000 inmates without violent records or serious offenses through changes in parole regulations and early-release rules.

Sound better?  Let’s see…

Studies (see post 6/30) have shown that for an “at risk” student to succeed, attendance is important, adequate safe facilities are necessary, highly-qualified teachers must be hired, adequate books and other resources are required, assessment and time/money for analysis of student academic needs is mandated, tutoring and before or after school programs should be provided, and parent commitment to encourage the student’s achievement must be supported.  Not counting the funds for a district to oversee each school’s budget in order to get every bit of use from each thin dime.  All that for $7000, now $6000 after the recent budget cuts, a year per child in California.

Now for each person spending the year in prison, food must be provided; health care, a safe facility, rehabilitation services should be allocated; and prison guards and administrators must be paid to run the facility. Done at $49,000 a year per inmate.

Rarely is a word printed about any funded services to guide inmates ready to be released into programs that will help them return to their family responsibilities.  In fact, the local public school is held responsible for guiding parents: providing counseling, direction to family health services, and parent education so they can support their children’s academic success.  Again, unless the school receives a grant or qualifies for Title I monies, all those services are included in the $7000, now $6000, per child per year.

Rethink priorities.

Along with the entire financial mess that California has brought upon itself, how different groups in this state are supported financially must be carefully reviewed.

In the article “California’s costly budget decisions,” by Larry N. Gerston, San Francisco Chronicle, September 14, 2009, we are reminded that budget-cutting at the expense of students, who with education get jobs and enter professions, leaves them to drop out.  How many will think the only way to get money is to rob, sell drugs, or steal cars, eventually landing in prison at $49,000 a year?  Instead, how about spending “the fraction it might take to keep them in school?”

In addition, wouldn’t it be better to spend money on community colleges, half-way houses, drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities for no other reason than to provide paroled adults with skills to help their children succeed in school.

Sanity must return to California’s finances.  What teacher wants to grovel, asking, buddy, can you spare a dime?