With the current economic crisis greatly impacting California, public schools, which are dependent on state funds, are facing serious budget cutbacks with even greater uncertainties that funding will improve in years to come.
In Pleasanton, the school district is facing a proposed mid-fiscal year reduction of an additional $4 million on top of the $2 million reduction made prior to the start of FY 2008-09 last July 1. Under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's current proposal, the total deficit grows to $8.7 million over the next two years--this fiscal year and FY 2009-10--which is now being drafted.
These reductions in actual funds will have to come at the expense of staff and programs in our district. Although no one wants to take this step, the district will be forced to lay off teachers, administrators and classified personnel, as well as reduce or eliminate programs that also are of significant value to the district and its students.
School districts throughout California are equally affected, any reduction in per pupil spending will move the state farther back in its already dismal status for funding public schools.
Superintendent John Casey, his staff and the newly-constituted school board deserve credit for making these funding woes and their possible impact as transparent as possible. The list of possible cuts, which includes eliminating class-size reduction (going back from 20 to 32 students in kindergarten through third-grade classes) and less student support services such as counseling and reading specialists, has been sent to all district employees and posted by this newspaper and at school sites.
Principals are sending more details to parents about what the proposed cuts could mean for their students, whether in elementary, middle or high school.
Michael Kuhfal, principal at Hearst Elementary School, for one, has sent letters to the parents of his 650 students asking for their support of efforts to block further state funding reductions and to become informed about the steps they can take to spare Pleasanton schools the loss of teachers, programs and scholastic improvements. Here are some of his suggestions:
* Attend PTA or PSTA meetings where school and district representatives will discuss the budget dilemma.
* Attend the Pleasanton school district board meetings, which are held starting at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month at the District Office, located at 4665 Bernal Ave.
* Log onto the district's budget webpage at www.pleasanton.k12.ca.us/BusinessServices/Budget for weekly updates about how the budget is affecting schools in Pleasanton.
* Ask questions at firstname.lastname@example.org; accurate information is important during these challenging times.
* Visit the budget FAQ page on the PUSD website at www.pleasanton.k12.ca.us/BusinessServices/Budget/BudgetFAQs.cfm.
* Become an advocate for schools. Contact your state legislators regarding the way California's education is funded and your concerns about how this impacts our schools. Pleasanton's State Senator is Ellen Corbett. Our three State Assembly members are Joan Buchanan (15th), Mary Hayashi (18th) and Alberto Torrico (20th). You can locate and email your legislators via capwiz.com and click on the "elected officials" tab.
* Contact the Pleasanton school board with your thoughts. Its contact information is available on the district website at www.pleasanton.k12.ca.us/BoardofTrustees/Trustees.cfm. Again, attend board meetings to show support. If you can't attend, be sure to watch the meetings that are broadcast on Community Television's Channel 28. But remember, board members can't see you if you're just sitting in front of a television set. Go to the meetings in person so they know you're concerned.
* Our school board has discussed the possibility of pursuing a parcel tax in June. Any parcel tax measure must be led and funded by the leadership of the community. Joan Laursen, PTA Council president, has indicated early interest in taking this on, and she can be contacted at 462-7994 or email@example.com. Let your views be heard.
* Special district-wide informative meetings about the budget crisis have also been scheduled for 7 p.m. next Monday at Amador Valley High School's multipurpose room, with a second meeting to be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4, at Foothill High School's multipurpose room. Casey and the district's senior staff will make presentations and answer questions at each of these upcoming meetings.
Time is of the essence. Given the current budget deficit outlook, the board will need to make decisions on its impact to district employees so that pink slips can be sent by March 15 as required. These decisions affect the community as a whole, not just residents with children in the public school system. Many of us moved to Pleasanton because of its great schools. Everyone's help is needed to keep them great.