State budget crisis impacts RUSD

By: Rocklin Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Brown
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A brief history Prior to the historic passage of Proposition 13 thirty years ago, schools were funded by local property taxes. Local school boards established the budget for schools and local property taxes provided the revenue. Costs were determined and controlled at the local level, and elected school board members were held accountable for the use of the property tax dollars. California’s schools were the envy of the nation. However, taxpayers objected to rapidly rising property taxes and passed Proposition 13 by a narrow margin. The proposition slashed property taxes in half, and the burden for funding schools shifted to the state. At the same time that the state was assuming the burden for funding schools, the legislature and Jerry Brown, then the state’s governor, also reduced state taxes. A mismatch of some degree between expenses and revenues has persisted since that time. No one would argue that the property tax burden in 1978 was acceptable; some type of reform was needed. However, a solution created thirty years ago does not work today. We need a thoughtful reconsideration of what level of education and public service the citizens of California want, and then a funding system should be designed to provide the necessary resources. Almost immediately after the passage of Proposition 13, per-pupil funding for California public education fell below the national average. California’s funding for public education has been significantly below the national average for over two decades. In response to declining and unstable funds for schools, voters passed Proposition 98, guaranteeing that public education would receive at least 40 percent of the state budget. Proposition 98 provided some guarantees for schools, but public school funding still remained well below the national average. Proposition 98 guaranteed a “minimum” funding level, not an adequate or competitive level of funding. Over the years, public schools have reduced services and personnel to try to maintain a high quality education with below-average resources. According to independent researchers (Ed Source, Education Week, and the Fordham Foundation), California has academic standards among the top five in the nation and the most challenging population in the nation in terms of socio-economics and non-English speakers. Yet, according to a 2006 study by the US Census Bureau, the funding for California’s children is at least $653 per pupil below the national average, a figure that equates to over $6 million for the Rocklin Unified School District. Other studies place California’s support for its children even further below the national average. To survive in the past decade our district has had to make reductions such as eliminating or reducing librarians, nurses, counselors, administrators, and support staff, including custodians and school secretaries. Field trips have been decreased, and career and technical education, music, art, and physical education programs suffered reductions. A school of 1000 students, funded at the national average, has 64 teachers, 3.2 administrators, and adequate support staff. A California school of 1000 has 48 teachers, 2.2 administrators, and fewer support staff. The reduced number of adults working in California schools directly affects class size, safety, and the quality and types of services available to students. The current status of RUSD schools For the current school year (2008-09), the Governing Board has been able to balance the budget by using carry-over dollars from our 2007-08 school year which resulted from limiting summer school, reducing supplies, delaying hiring when possible, and postponing the purchase of new equipment. We had previously implemented every other day cleaning, reduced maintenance of grounds, eliminated bus routes, raised transportation fees, increased class size in grades 4-12, and eliminated all three elementary vice-principal positions. These decisions have been followed by news that we may need to make even deeper cuts for this year, and that next year’s budget will be worse than the current year’s budget. The budget proposals prepared by the governor, the Republican caucus, and the Democratic caucus all call for funding cuts for the current year and next year. Of the current proposals, the most optimistic would require our District to cut $2-5 million for this year and next, and the most pessimistic would require $6-8 million. The final budget decisions for this year and the next are still pending. However, any budget proposal currently being considered will require unprecedented reductions in the services and opportunities we provide for students. Because 85% of our budget pays for personnel, and most of the remaining 15% must be spent on unavoidable costs (i.e., energy, property/liability insurance, books, mandatory reserves, and supplies) we will likely be forced to issue layoff notices to several employees this spring. These employees all provide services to students, and we will likely see even larger class sizes, fewer elective options, and fewer support services for our students unless there is a major “rethinking” of California’s budget priorities. Next Steps We will continue to monitor the budget developments and communicate with our legislative representatives about the impact of the current budget proposals on our schools. We will be implementing a “spending chill” that limits any current spending to only those items and services that are critical to safety and instruction. Every dollar we can save in the present is a dollar we may not have to cut next year. We must also begin to prepare for a worst case scenario even as we work and hope for a better outcome. Staff will be preparing options for budget reductions and analyzing how those reductions impact the core academic mission of the District. Our first priority, as always, will be to assure that our students are safe and receive the basic instruction they need to learn and graduate. We have developed a survey for our parents and community to gather information about funding priorities and ideas for cost savings. We will also be scheduling community forums to provide information about the budget crisis and to gather ideas in February or early March. We will all need to think beyond our “personal interest” when it comes to developing a plan for the coming year(s). Reductions of $2-8 million cannot be accomplished without considerable sacrifice. If you want to help . . . First and foremost, please stay involved and learn all you can about public school finance. We have posted information about the District’s budget and other related items on this site. For the long term, remember that in California we have been below the national average in per-pupil funding for over two decades even though we have among the highest standards and the most challenging student population in the nation. In the long term, our legislature needs to reconsider the entire process for funding public education. The often repeated mantra that we must “live within our means” is only appropriate if we know that our means will provide the type of education our students will need to succeed in the future. Please contact your legislative representatives and let them know how you feel. Also, plan to attend the budget forums so that your voice can be heard. And please have some patience and understanding. The crisis was not caused by public education and what we are experiencing today is the result of years of under funding. To survive in the past, we have for decades reduced services, especially support services such as counselors, nurses, administrators, librarians, as well as clerical, custodial, maintenance, and grounds staff. With the magnitude of the cuts on the horizon, every program and classroom will likely feel the impact. The budget picture for the next few years is dark and gloomy. However, the talent, commitment and quality of our teachers, administrators, and support staff will remain, and we will continue to strive to do our best for our students and community. Kevin Brown Superintendent