Why I Can’t Trust California

21 01 2008

Thursday evening, I attended a Superintendent Forum for the Norwalk/La Mirada Unified School District. Aside from being the only male, I was also the only person under the age of 35 in attendance, which meant that whenever the superindent was speaking, she made sure to make eye contact with me so I would feel like she valued my attention.

Hey, fine by me. I had to go as part of my journalism internship, and I was trying to absorb all the information I could so as to report as accurately as possible.

As disturbing as that sounds, the frightening part came when the budget was discussed. Try to stay focused as the mire thickens, would you?

So, because California’s economy is in the tank thanks to years of overspending and mysterious drains on our services, education in the K-14 range (Kindergarten through Community College) is being slashed along with everything else this year. Badly. Let’s see some numbers:

K-12 will see a net 2.4% cut in revenue limit funding, but most categorical programs will see the full allotment of a 6.5% cut. This includes everything from field trips to special education to instruction materials to transportation. In fact, the majority of California schools already have or are considering doing away with bus rides for all but special education children.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ll keep seeing more of the same cutbacks on music equipment, athletic programs, before- and after-school programs, food services, etc.

Food services are an especially painful cut, with the meal reimbursment rate being slashed by two cents. (this is huge, as the schools have always done everything possible to maintain high nutrition and food service standards.) Fruit and Vegetables are going to become less fresh and more scarce, even with all the incentive programs put in the place within the last decade. There just isn’t any money.

However, the bad news becomes cold irony when it comes to attendance levels. Each school is paid by the state for their Average Daily Attendance, regardless of how many students are enrolled. (so THAT’S why mom always forced me to go to school) However, it gets sticky because former bills that impose severe financial penalties for larger class sizes are not affected by any of the new legislation. For example:

Class size ranges from 20.45 to 20.94 are penalized (in the N/LA USD) $4,004, or 20% of their class stipend. Class sizes from 20.95 to 21.44 are penalized $8k/40%, and 21.45 to 21.84 $16k/80%. Anything above 21.85 students per classroom get hit with 100% penalties, as well as other class penalties if the state deems it necessary.

Unfortunately, the schools make their money from students attending. If funding is slashed, they certainly want more kids to come to increase their cash flow–but this is simply not feasible with the above penalties looming over their heads. As it is now, La Mirada is already putting children on the waiting lists that live within a few miles of the schools for fear of drawing the ire of the state. It’s a catch-22 with some serious teeth.

-End information dump-

So after these and other doomsday items have been addressed, the superintendent then brings up perhaps the most jaw-dropping issue yet.

Most of the schools have advisory/suggestion boards that parents can join in an effort to become more involved with their children’s education. However, there have been recent problems with parents being unable to participate because they do not speak English. So, because this is deemed an invalid reason for turning parents away, our impoverished public schools are now hiring interpreters (where volunteers cannot be found) to allow these parents to participate. One of the moms at the forum commented that it seems a little ___notallowedtosaythatingrandma’shouse___ that people who are already draining resources from the government without paying taxes are now forcing the schools to pony up for interpreters. I don’t feel completely entitled to comment on this aspect of the situation, but I think the situation itself raises enough questions.

Doom and gloom is easy enough to propogate right now, but we should “try to pull together” as the superintendent said. (She also said it is important to avoid internecine squabbles during these cutbacks, but no one knew what that meant either.)

Suffice it to say, I know what state’s public education program my kids will not be enjoying in the coming years.