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February 27th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune
As the proudly grinning first-graders of this year’s Camellia Festival Royal Court were introduced to the applauding crowd at Temple City High School’s Media Center last Wednesday night, it appeared to be the beginning of quite a merry evening. The festivities continued with the announcement of the K-12 winners of the PTA Reflections program, followed by a slide show presented by the lucky students who went on Oak Avenue Intermediate School’s presidential inauguration trip to DC in January. An hour into the whole affair, anyone hoping to witness a school budget forum might have seriously wondered if they were in the right room.
But at the ceremonies’ end, the students slowly shuffled out of the library, and the festive mood blew right out the shiny glass doors along with them. It was now time to address what nearly all of the parents and teachers present that night had shown up to discuss: the budget crisis. So as the students basked in the glory of their scholarly accomplishments, the school board was left to deliberate on how to go about shaving away at the very tools and services that had helped them succeed.
Facing dramatic reductions in funding, the district had been forced to draw up a budget proposal with deep cuts, and superintendent Chelsea Kang-Smith iterated that these were very difficult decisions. She described the district as a family, stating, “we care about every individual,” and “whether it was a reduction in a position or a layoff…we saw faces attached to them.”
The bleak details were then revealed to the audience in a power point presentation narrated by Chief Business Official David Jaynes. He announced that although no budget had yet been confirmed, Governor Schwarzenegger and democrats were proposing district reductions of $1.8 million for 2008/09, and an additional $2.4 million for 2009/10. Republicans have been pushing for an $8.2 million cut for 2008/09. As it stands now, the state of California ranks a dismal 47th in the country in per-pupil spending and close to that in performance.
Under the new budget proposed by the district office, classified staff stood poised to take the biggest hit with the laying off of PE aides, English Language Development coordinators, media techs, and more. Reductions in hours would also be forced upon health clerks, attendance clerks, custodians, and campus security personnel. In full, layoffs and reductions of classified staff would total $962,038.
Certificated staff (which includes teachers) would suffer nearly as much, with $818,111 in funding erased. Reading specialists would be eliminated, and class sizes increased to 34:1. To cut corners, management would now act as subs one day a month, and librarians would teach two periods a day. As students in special-needs schools were shipped back to public-school classrooms to save money, reductions to special education teachers and aides would occur simultaneously.
School resources would also be diminished under the proposal, with $225,611 being taken away from books, supplies, and equipment. School busses would be reduced, and summer school would now only be available to students either recommended for retention or needing credits to graduate.
The response from the school board to the plan was denunciatory and harsh: the reaction from the parents, emotional. Board Vice President Rachel LaSota, the most vocal of the group, was adamant about her criticisms of the plan and, cheered on by the crowd, let the district administrators know exactly where she stood. She first attacked the idea of cutting special education and reading specialists stating, “some of these programs make the difference for our kids to be successful.” She then questioned the wisdom of relaxing campus security, and was particularly put off by the fact that money would still be allocated to send faculty to conferences even as others were slated to lose their jobs. “I can’t stomach this,” she proclaimed, “we’re all going to go to conferences, or send this group of teachers, but this person’s going to get laid off.”
Several parents spoke out against the budget plan, more than one wondering why new office furniture had recently been purchased for the superintendent’s office in spite of the dire situation. One mother claimed she had requested public records regarding the purchase, but had received no reply. Another parent, the mother of a Longden Elementary student, was in tears after hearing the proposal and called the budget “unconscionable.”
Although it seems unlikely that the version of the budget described at Wednesday’s meeting will pass as-is, layoffs and reductions seem inevitable given the current financial circumstances. A special budget board meeting is scheduled for February 18th, and soon after that will be a vote. While there still remains the possibility of eventual aid from President Obama’s stimulus package or an improvement in California’s fiscal matters, the Temple City board must right now scramble to minimize the damage to our schools inflicted by the flailing arms of a sinking economy.
By Nina Kathryn Hauptman