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Torlakson: School Survival Depends on Brown Budget

Joined by the teachers' union, California's highest-ranking superintendent of education campaigns in support of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax extensions.

Flanked by students bearing signs that read, “Where’s our bailout?” and “Yea in May,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson barnstormed in support of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget in San Bruno last week.

While the state budget was approved last Thursday, tax extensions in June's special elections are still up for debate. In addition, Brown may have already missed the window for the June 7 special election. State laws require 88 days prior to an election, and California lawmakers may need to rewrite election statues.

Schools in the Milpitas Unified School District and throughout California are counting on the extensions to make it into the ballot and be passed by voters, or face more severe budget deficits.

The budget, which closes a $27 billion deficit, proposes to raise $12 billion in tax extensions and fee renewals, and by cleaving another $12.5 billion through a variety of cuts. Voters would have to approve the tax extensions in a special election in June—if they make it onto the ballot.

Without the extensions, the school budget in California could be gutted by as much as $4.5 billion, or 10 percent. But even if the tax extensions pass, Milpitas Unified projects a $3.4 million deficit for the 2011-12 fiscal year, according to its second interim budget.

Even with the parcel tax measure that voters passed last year (Measure B) that provided an estimated $1.3 million this fiscal year, Milpitas Unified expects to tap into its reserves, namely the building fund and post-retirement benefits fund.

As a result, the $6 million balance is expected to dwindle to a little less than $3 million by the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year. And the building fund and post-retirement funds will go down to $3.5 million and $175,000 respectively.

Milpitas did not give out pink slips on "Red Tuesday," or March 15, the date that school districts must let teachers know they've been targeted for layoffs in the coming school year. The pink slips provided a supportive backdrop for Torlakson and other speakers who condemned the , among at least 60 in San Mateo County and nearly 20,000 statewide.

Advocates argue kindergarten-through-12th-grade education could be struck with more pink slips, involuntary teacher furloughs and a reduction of days in the school year without the passage of the tax extensions.

“I urge legislators to act in a bipartisan way,” said Torlakson. “They can choose whether we will slide to the bottom of the Western industrial world or rise again back to the top.”

Not all lawmakers are willing to see the proposal go to ballot.

But while Republican lawmakers have balked, business groups such as Silicon Valley Leadership and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce are persuading conservatives to reconsider, Torlakson said.

Teachers and administrators described a grim educational landscape in which students read outdated textbooks, bodies outnumber desks, libraries have closed and electives like shop, music, art and sports have fallen by the wayside.

“It was wall-to-wall with kids crammed in there,” said San Mateo County Superintendent Anne Campbell, speaking of a recent stint as principal of the day in South San Francisco's Spruce Elementary School. “We are down to the muscle, and there is nowhere else to go. We are being held hostage to a political stalemate unlike anything I’ve seen in 38 years on the job.”

The ranks of custodians, secretaries, landscapers and other classified workers have also thinned; the number who may lose their jobs is not known, because districts do not have to announce layoffs among classified personnel until six weeks before the new school year begins. But 1,000 are projected to lose their jobs this school year in the greater Bay Area, and nearly 5,800 statewide.

The number of pink slips peaked two years ago when combined districts handed out some 22,000. Forty percent were rehired, but schools chiefs say they have no idea whether the money will be there to rehire any in the coming year. They have until May 15 to cancel the layoffs.

"In education, there is nothing left," said Parkside Intermediate School teacher Kelly Delaney. "You're going to start having 80 kids to a classroom. I get a lot of  kids who can't afford basic supplies. I buy binders and binder paper myself."

In the district of California Teachers Association board member Michael Stone, the class size for grades one, two and three used to be 20 to 1.

“Now it’s 31 to 1," he said. "Imagine 10 more bodies, 10 more desks.”

Jefferson School District has cut 18 temporary positions but did not lay off any permanent staff. However, it may have to if the budget proposal does not pan out, said Superintendent Matteo Rizzo.

“We are feeling the anxiety of great uncertainty,” said Amy Wooliever, superintendent of the La Honda-Pescadero School District, where two positions were cut.

The state educates 6.2 million students in 1,000 school districts. All Californians, not just parents, depend on the outcome of a sound school system, said Burnham.

“The future of the state and the future of the country is right here in front,” he said, gesturing toward children. “They are in class every day.”

Allysson March 25, 2011 at 12:50 AM
They may need to rewrite some statutes - its hard to rewrite a statue (that's set in stone, LOL). ;-)
Allysson March 25, 2011 at 12:51 AM
I'm please Milpitas did not hand out pink slips, but we still need to get this on the ballot and take care of education! Our teachers and administrators and other staff have more to do with fewer resources than ever before!
Norm March 25, 2011 at 02:14 AM
Karl picked a good time to retire :)

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