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April 3rd, 2009 by Temple City Tribune
Superintendent of the Arcadia Unified School District Dr. Joel Shawn does not “pretend to have all the answers” when discussing the budgetary crisis his district, among all California school districts, is ensnared in. He admits that “…there are just a lot of unknowns” and that nobody is immune. But when I met with Dr. Shawn on Tuesday to ask him if and when stimulus money will help AUSD rescind some of the well-known 41 pink slips certified teachers within the district, his response was something of a scandalous story; state officials, he said, have recently discussed the possibility of withholding Federal Stimulus dollars Arcadia was to receive at the end of March.
The state of California has three funds receiving money from the stimulus: Title I, Special Education, and the Fiscal Stabilization Fund. When congress permitted Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, it quickly became the largest federally funded educational program in the nation. Title I allocates supplemental funds to school districts with the intention of helping struggling students to succeed in the curriculum. When AUSD was allotted dollars for its Title I and Special Education funds in the stimulus, both were strictly protected by law. And despite the district’s pressing issue of teacher layoffs, those funds could not—by any means—be used to keep some teachers in the classrooms. The Fiscal Stabilization Fund, on the other hand, helps to balance the state budget.
Ironically, the strictly protected Title I and Special Education funds Arcadia was to receive are now up in the air, as is a suitable and perhaps only description. Jennifer Kuhn, director of K-12 Education for the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO), proposed that the governor’s office not “commit” to allocating the funds to AUSD. The LAO argued to use the funds to backfill the state’s staggering $8 billion deficit, as the district’s lobbyist Jack Frost and the California Association of School Business Officials (CASBO) report. But the governor’s office declined this, favoring that the stimulus dollars be allocated to schools. Dr. Shawn says Kuhn’s proposal is “not as likely,” with respect to the governor’s decision. He added, “Frankly, it’s all just talk right now.”
However, he said “Our funding is tied up in Prop 98.” Proposition 98 guarantees that educational systems receive a percent of the state budget but with shorter state revenues, the schools will receive less. Dr. Shawn argues that an $8 billion deficit cannot be quelled without substantial cuts and because 60% of its recent budget cuts were derived from educational systems, he cannot deny the looming possibility of cuts for AUSD.
He ended the interview with, “Politics are politics and its not all black and white. We will continue to communicate all that we know with the public and really appreciate the dialogue.” This was no understatement, I should add.
In fact, Dr. Shawn hosts a blog, “The Superintendent’s Budget Discussion,” on the AUSD Portal that is nothing short of powerful. It packs the power of knowledge and passion in one clear, concise discussion—updates written in lucid prose and a string of comments from the public to follow. “Nice” said “In the news this week, Obama berated AIG for distributing millions of dollars worth of bonus money to executives despite receiving billions in US government bail out money. What would Obama do (WWOD) if he were to get wind about how our superintendent rather cut teacher jobs than to first consider a personal pay cut? Mr. Shawn, if you are an Obama supporter, then you need to do the right thing.” Of course, for the senselessly rude and sometimes pressing comments Dr. Shawn’s blog receives, it receives laudatory and knowledge-seeking ones as well. Ernesto and Antoneth Fong write, “We are fortunate to live in such a caring and supportive community and feel blessed by the level of education that is afforded to our children by these wonderful teachers.” Pep Manning writes, “To Dr. Shawn, I really appreciate your willingness to have this forum. The decisions you have the responsibility to make are extremely difficult, and to take the time to explain, and answer questions, is truly a breath of fresh air.”
Some of Arcadia’s heavy hitters endorse the blog. Bill Klipstein, Arcadia Education Foundation Treasurer responds to the public regularly. Joann Steinmeier, president of the AUSD Board of Education, left a lengthy comment as well. An array of parents, alumni, locals and pink-slipped teachers alike—they are all on the blog, discussing opinions for all to read. I definitely recommend “The Superintendent’s Budget Discussion” for those looking for a well-rounded analysis on the state’s budget woes. As the story develops, Dr. Shawn blogs to keep Arcadia’s residents in the know.
By Emily Litvack