By Barbara Grady-Ayer
Albany schools are likely to take some very serious hits in September now that California voters defeated the May 19 budget initiatives and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has responded by putting forth another round of harsh cuts.
Gov. Schwarzenegger in recent days outlined a draconian budget plan that includes taking another $5 billion away from education. Combined with February’s cuts to education, that would mean a loss of at least $1,000 per student by next September.
Albany Board of Education members say that size cut will all but eliminate the chances of preserving the school programs that it voted in February to put on provisional list for cutting in a worse case scenario.
“The election means we may be asked to cut an additional $600 dollars in spending per student,” on top of about $400 already cut, said board member Miriam Walden.
“We probably won’t be able to restore very many of the programs that have already been cut. The possibility of keeping the 7th period at the high school or music in the elementary schools is becoming more distant. We will definitely not have performing arts, athletic transportation, etc.,” she said. “We will definitely have larger class sizes in kindergarten to third grade and in ninth grade English compared with this year,” she continued.
Albany Superintendent of Schools Marla Stephenson plans to deliver a budget report next Monday, June 8, that will outline the local budgetary and programmatic changes to be enacted as a result of statewide spending plan. Stephenson’s talk will begin at 6 p.m. at the Albany Community Center next to the library.
Ron Rosenbaum a board member and former principal of Albany High School lamented at the possible loss of the high school’s seventh period. Seventh period is when advanced classes in math, foreign language and science as well as a range of arts, computer, music and other electives.
“If you lose the electives and advanced placement classes, then Albany high school would become like any other high school, nothing special,” Rosenbaum said, vowing to work to preserve the seven period schedule.
“If the high school goes down, the whole school system goes down with it,” he said. School districts are often judged by the success of their graduates. As principal, Rosenbaum had worked hard to make seven periods available to all students at Albany High School and to add Advanced Placement classes. Previously only some students could secure seven periods, which made for an inequitable situation and caused the state to require the school to add instructional minutes.
Several board members said the only thing that will save the schools from having to dismantle programs for the year starting September is donations from the community to fundraising groups. For future years, several said, Albany should consider a parcel tax.
“We have not calculated in Albany Music Fund and SchoolCARE funds,” said board member Pat Low. “So there still is a little hope for next year.” SchoolCARE and the Albany Music Fund as well as the Albany Education Foundation and the Albany Athletic Boosters have been hard at work raising money for the schools this spring hoping to make up for what the state cuts.
A parcel tax is also under consideration and a group of concerned citizens is exploring the feasibility of Albany voters passing a new parcel tax.
“Now it becomes absolutely an emergency for us to put a parcel tax on the ballot in November so that the schools can have some significant revenue that is locally controlled,” said Walden who is leading the exploratory committee.
Eleven Bay area school districts have put new parcel taxes before voters in the past month in response to the state crisis. Five of seven districts passed their parcel tax initiatives in early May. Four more districts voted on parcel taxes Tuesday. The results have not yet been public.
Many cities in California have parcel taxes and Albany, like Berkeley, Piedmont, Orinda, the West Contra Costa school district and others has more than one already on the books. The amounts cities raise from them vary greatly, with Albany’s two taxes adding up to $500 per parcel while Piedmont’s add up to $2,000 per parcel per year for its schools.
Parcel taxes reflect how education is funded in most other states. In all but a few states, including California, education is funded through local property taxes and most control on education curriculum and policies rests locally. In California the state controls the school budgets as well as many school decisions. Prior to the late 1970s and Proposition 13 California operated similar to most other states.
Numerous educators have called for change in California’s system noting that the education spending and student performance began to deteriorate in California following the passage of Proposition 13.
The Obama administration Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, said California “has lost its way” in education and significantly underfunds its public school system. He noted, in a visit to San Francisco last month, that California public school education used to be the envy of the nation before it changed its budget making process.
State education leaders also express bafflement at what the state government is doing to education. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said the budget cuts to education being contemplated are “breathtaking”
in their severity.
“ Cuts of this magnitude would seriously threaten to stop the rise in student achievement we’ve seen over the last seven years, and they will undoubtedly hinder the work we’ve been doing to close California’s persistent achievement,” O’Connell said in a statement.
Article by Barbara Grady-Ayer