Editorial: Shorten school year; don't lay off more teachers
Count Mike Cross as part of an endangered species that should be protected: young, talented teachers who've been notified they're likely to be laid off because of budget cuts.
Thousands more may join them if the Legislature adopts Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to lop off an additional $6.1 billion from school budgets â€" including $1.6 billion from the current school year, with one week left! â€" because plunging state revenue has reduced the minimum funding guarantee under Proposition 98.
Assuming the governor holds firm on his no-new-tax pledge, the only way to save more teaching jobs and stop bleeding programs is to shorten the school year.
Districts face ugly choices. They can cut programs like sports and summer school, lay off counselors and librarians and increase class sizes by laying off more teachers; or they can truncate a school year that many believe should be longer, not shorter. That could signal to other states and to colleges that California no longer values education.
Given this Hobson's choice, we favor shortening the year by a week or more. It would preserve comprehensive programs, and it would spread the cost of a furlough to all employees while keeping new teachers on board. A shorter year would be fairer for low-performing schools, which tend to have younger teachers and are disproportionately harmed by layoffs.
Mike Cross illustrates why.
He is among 15 first- and second-year teachers at Overfelt High School, a low-income school in the East Side Union High School District, who will likely lose their jobs. And he's a teacher that principal Vito Chiala would least like to lose.
Over the past five years, Chiala has hired about half of the school's 80 faculty. There's a core of good veterans, but the newer teachers have brought energy and momentum. They led the creation of small learning communities that Chiala hopes will transform the school.
Cross is a second-year art teacher. Taking advantage of computers and a studio donated by Nvidiaï»¿, he started the digital media program and led an after-school video production program for at-risk students. Five students who won honors from Adobe Youth Voices will attend an expense-paid course at Stanford University this summer.
Under seniority rules, layoffs mean last in, first out across the district. Ross could be replaced by a teacher who may not even want to be at Overfelt, or he may not be replaced at all. District teachers agreed to take on more students, so there will be fewer classes. Momentum for reform will be lost. The digital arts program may go dark.
Schwarzenegger could impose a shorter year uniformly. Instead, he wants to give districts the option to lop 7ï»¿1/2 days off a 180-day school year for up to three years, a sign he doesn't expect revenue to improve.
Districts should take it one year at a time â€" and try to pass a parcel tax to reinstate the lost days. Reducing the school year is a drastic measure that only months ago would have been inconceivable. Voters may see it as a reason to provide more money for local schools.
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