By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Chad Dixon and his 36 students
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. Charles Dickens
Overcrowded classrooms. Dilapidated schools. No money for art, music, foreign language, libraries, counselors, sports, textbooks, technology, paper or pencils. Bah! Humbug!
If Ebenezer Scrooge were alive today, he might utter those words when asked to pay his fair share to support students — especially poor ones — whom he callously referred to as the “the surplus population.”
Our state, alas, has been playing Scrooge to students for decades. Schools are overcrowded, run-down and struggling to provide a well-rounded education to students — especially in low-income communities.
Renewing its commitment to public education might put California on the road to recovery. Studies show we spend $2,850 per student less than the national average — about $71,000 less per classroom than the average school in America.
Our schools need new revenue, so CTA joins Gov. Jerry Brown in supporting Prop. 30. It requires the wealthiest California residents to pay a little more in taxes, temporarily, in order to avoid billions in additional cuts to schools and colleges. Prop 30 is the only initiative that protects public education and addresses the state’s chronic budget shortfall.
Scrooge, of course, would say it’s not his problem: “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly.”
But shouldn’t education be everybody’s business? Education is the engine to improve the economy and will fuel the future for California’s next generation. So isn’t it time for California to stop playing Scrooge and invest in public education instead of making more cuts?
California has an opportunity to mend its miserly ways and rescue public education this November. It won’t be easy. But we can work together to pass Proposition 30, which makes billions in new funding available. That money is desperately needed to stop the cuts.
It took three ghosts to transform Scrooge’s attitude. So now, with Halloween just around the corner, dear reader, we have three ghosts of our own to behold: The Ghost of Education Past, The Ghost of Education Present, and The Ghost of Education Yet to Come. It is hoped their presence will be a haunting reminder of what we had, what we have already lost, and what we stand to lose if Proposition 30 does not pass.
The Ghost of Education Past
“Who are you?” asked Scrooge.
“Ask me who I was,” said the spirit.
“Who were you then?” said Scrooge, raising his voice.
Believe it or not, California’s schools were once the envy of the nation because schools were well funded. In 1972, California ranked 12th nationally in per-pupil spending (as opposed to 47th now). From the 1950s through the mid ’70s, the majority of California’s schools had sports, music, art and vocational education. Even summer school — offering a variety of high-end enrichment classes — was free. The state’s Master Plan for Higher Education, adopted in 1960, mandated that all eligible students would be admitted to college. But things changed in 1978 when voters passed Proposition 13, which slashed property taxes by nearly 60 percent and made it almost impossible to pass new taxes by mandating a two-thirds supermajority to do so. Within a few years, California went from being first to worst in school funding.
Below are some recollections from CTA members at three districts reminiscing about the “good old days.”
Bakersfield City: Books, after-school sports
“You used to be able to call down and order 100 books for your classroom, and those books would rotate through school libraries,” recalls Pam Baugher, a teacher in Bakersfield City School District from 1969 to 2009. “When I started teaching, every school had a counselor who was actually allowed to be a counselor. We took a few field trips every year without any problem. In better times, all of the elementary schools had after-school sports programs open to all students. We had adequate supplies. Rooms were cleaned five days a week. There were lots of electives at the middle school, like shop and home economics. It was fun to be a teacher, and we were creative in our teaching.”
The former president of the Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association, now retired and a school board member, says “everything changed” for the worse when Proposition 13 passed.
Pomona Unified: A nurse at every school
“We had everything we needed,” Joyce Miller remembers of teaching elementary school in the district beginning in 1968. “Our cupboards were full of supplies, and we could go into the office and pick up anything else that we needed, such as art supplies. We had art teachers at the elementary schools and counselors at every school. We had a nurse and a nurse’s aide at every school. I had a classroom aide in my room every year.”
Miller, an Associated Pomona Teachers (APT) member, now works for the district offering professional development to school employees in technology.
District librarian and APT member David Bogardus recalls that every secondary school had its own librarian to help teachers develop curriculum and help with research projects for students. There was ample money for library books, field trips and enrichment activities for students, he recalls fondly. He now works at two high schools and, one day a week, at the district office.
John Swett Unified: Free of worries
“Field trips were funded upon request. The district paid for band uniforms. Teachers and school staff never worried about layoffs, cuts in programs or having to forage for supplies. Each school in had a grounds crew. The district paid for bus transportation to school. There were school nurses. They put lights on the football field,” says Dean Colombo, reminiscing about when he was a student in the ’70s in John Swett Unified School District, serving several Contra Costa County communities.
The high school had four full-time counselors and a full-time school librarian. There were classes in French, German, Spanish and Latin. The district later added AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a program to help students “in the middle” succeed in college, says Colombo, now a teacher at John Swett High School.
The Ghost of Education Present
“Spirit!” said Scrooge in a broken voice, “remove me from this place.”
“That they are what they are, do not blame me!” said the Ghost.
Twenty billion has been cut from schools in just the last four years. Approximately 40,000 educators have lost their jobs over the past three years in California, including nurses, counselors, librarians and classified employees. That means students are packed into classrooms like sardines. Sports, music, arts and science either have been cut or are on the chopping block. Money for basics such as paper, pencils and books is lacking. Students have been divided into haves and have-nots, since parents in affluent areas are able to raise funds to offset cuts. Furlough days have shortened the school year. Facilities are falling apart, with little funding to fix them. The Master Plan is in tatters: Colleges turn away thousands of qualified applicants and have drastically cut professorships, classes and programs while raising tuition. Here is a look at our once-flourishing districts now floundering.
Bakersfield City: Bartering for school supplies
Over the past five years, the district has cut $29 million, with reductions to truancy and dropout prevention programs, after-school tutoring, pre-kindergarten classes, and GATE (gifted and talented education) programs, and the elimination of some magnet programs. Middle schools no longer have certificated librarians. Most counselors were cut; teachers say student behavior problems reflect this. Many junior high electives are gone; so are most field trips.
There’s still music, but it’s constantly threatened with being cut. After-school sports for grades K-6 were greatly reduced. Over the past five years, 108 teaching positions were cut, along with 344 classified positions, so class sizes are larger. Teachers have fewer supplies. Rachel Lenix, a longtime sixth-grade teacher at McKinley Elementary School, says teachers “barter” for paper and pencils they need.
Pomona Unified: Last parenting class standing
Sixty million has been cut over six years. The school year has decreased by five furlough days. K-3 class-size reduction is gone. Secondary classes have 35 students or more. Half of school counselors were let go; a handful of nurses travel between schools. Two librarians are split between four high schools, with none at the middle schools.
More than 1,000 pink slips have been issued to teachers over the past few years, with 90 handed out last year. Adult education, which provided classes for 17,000 students, had $11 million cut from a $12 million program. The community has high unemployment and has staged protests because adults — including parents — need adult education for job training. Of the 20 who taught parenting classes in the adult school, only one teacher remains. Superintendent Richard Martinez says, “Everyone in Pomona Unified is working harder with less,” and worries job burnout will happen.
John Swett Unified: How to meet students’ needs?
Since 2007, the district, consisting of four schools, cut $5 million. One librarian serves four schools, and there are no academic counselors at the high school. (A vice principal serves as a half-time counselor.) The high school eliminated its AVID program for college readiness. The art teacher at the middle school was eliminated, and the high school no longer has French, German or Latin classes. Class size reduction for grades K-3 is gone.
Teaching jobs have been lost. The John Swett Education Association had 130 members in 1996, compared with less than 70 now. The groundskeepers and custodians were decimated. The district hasn’t had a school nurse since the 1980s. The high school is under reconstruction, but the district lacks funds to complete the project, although parts of it continue. Students pay to ride the bus. The district imposed five furlough days. The high school band has survived, thanks to volunteers holding more than 20 fundraisers. Residents tried to pass two parcel taxes, but couldn’t muster a two-thirds majority.
The Ghost of Education Yet to Come
“Are these the shadows of things that will be, or are they the shadows of things that may be, only?” asked Scrooge.
Without Proposition 30, our schools and colleges face $6 billion in cuts this year. There will be more school employee layoffs, larger class sizes, and further loss of programs. College degrees may become something only the wealthy can afford. University of California administrators say they would have to raise tuition as much as 20 percent in January if Prop. 30 fails.
The good news: If Proposition 30 passes, we can put an end to these cuts and put California back on the road to recovery. However, school districts are planning for the worst. Here’s a sample of some worst-case scenarios.
Bakersfield City: Ballooning class sizes
The biggest elementary school district in the state could lose about $12 million from its $238 million budget if voters reject Proposition 30, so the school board recently approved a resolution supporting the measure. “Passing it will allow us to tread water,” says Pam Baugher, school board trustee. “We would just be able to keep what we have.”
If Prop. 30 loses, there might be additional loss of teachers, more furlough days and even larger class sizes, says Superintendent Rob Arias. Chad Dixon, a fifth-grade teacher at McKinley Elementary School, hopes his classes don’t get any bigger. He had 36 students in his class last year, and 30 the year before. He says having such a large class made it more difficult to teach because he spends more time disciplining students.
Pomona Unified: Pink slips… again
For the district, which has an annual budget of $245 million, trigger cuts would add $11.7 million to the district’s existing $19.3 million shortfall. If Proposition 30 loses, there could be additional furlough days, school closures, and cuts to sports and visual and performing arts. The few remaining school nurses could also be eliminated, despite being the only source of health care for many of the district’s low-income students. Class sizes could go up. All cuts, of course, would result in more pink slips.
Vibhuti Sharma has received a pink slip in each of the past five years. “It creates uncertainty for the entire school climate and is terrible for school morale,” she says. “It is harder for the children than it is on the teachers.”
John Swett Unified: Cut to the bone
“There’s not much to cut these days,” says Superintendent Mike McLaughlin, but trigger cuts would reduce another $700,000 from the already bare-bones budget. “We will have to cut school days. Everything will be on the table. It will be the worst hurt this district has ever seen. I’m tired of cutting and I hope it doesn’t happen.”
Teachers say that the district could cut as much as one month of school, and they envision further layoffs, cuts in programs, increased class sizes, and further construction delays. “Whoever imagined that our schools would be in this kind of condition?” asks JSEA President Michael Kinsley. “Teachers are doing the best they can, but by any measure these kids are getting a second-class education.”
Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843. His message still brings hope today: By remembering the past and reflecting on the present, we have the power to change the future. Please join CTA and Gov. Brown in helping to pass Proposition 30.
Related Tags: Volume 17 Issue 2, Educator Feature, Inside Educator, Educator, Budget, Campaign, Class size reduction, Community, Cuts, Election, ESP, Funding, Higher Education, Layoffs, Locals, Parents, Performing arts, Physical education, Safety,