The Breaking Point
The state’s budget crisis has chopped teachers and programs from our schools.
As students return to school this year, many will find more crowded classes and a favorite teacher gone. Some won’t enjoy as much time with counselors or the chance to play in a school band. Some high school students may not even be able to play on sports teams.
Public schools throughout the state were hit with a perfect and devastating storm. A global recession helped sink state revenues, and legislative budget battles and uneven school district funding made things worse. Schools up and down the I-680 corridor have lost nearly $100 million. Hardest hit are districts that failed to win parcel-tax elections this spring. Superintendents in all districts have been left with little choice but to slice into programs, increase class sizes, or reduce staffing. Unfortunately, district leaders expect to be slammed with more bad budget news next year.
Here’s a district-by-district look at what’s been cut and how parents, community members, and district employees are rallying to make up the difference in budget shortfalls, and save our children’s schools.
► Acalanes Union High
• One of the state’s top-ranked districts had to lay off teachers and increase class sizes.
Enrollment: 5,692. Four high schools and one alternative high school in Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda, and Walnut Creek.
Budget 2009–10: $50.5 million.
Budget hit: $5 million.
Federal stimulus: $2.1 million.
Worst blow: Twenty teaching and 14 staff positions were cut, some through attrition.
Class sizes up? World history is up to 31–1.
Saved: Team sports but with families asked to contribute more for a student to participate.
Parcel tax? A $189 per-parcel tax brings in $6.7 million a year.
Bond money: Voters in November passed a $93 million bond extension to upgrade technology and buildings.
Parent power: Counselors, librarians, and leadership classes have been maintained at schools, thanks to parent clubs and community educational foundations that serve all four high schools, which raised $800,000 for 2009–10.
► Dublin Unified
• Staff and teachers agreed to furloughs to save jobs and fifth-grade music.
Enrollment: 5,951. Five elementary schools, one K–8 school, one middle school, one high school, and one alternative high school.
Budget 2009–10: $46 million.
Budget hit: $3.9 million.
Federal stimulus: $1.7 million.
Class sizes up? K–1 classes are up to 23–1; 2–3 are up to 25–1; ninth-grade English and math are up to 25–1.
Saved: Teacher and staff jobs were saved after all district employees agreed to take three days’ furlough.
Saved for now: Fifth- grade instrumental music, but not the fourth-grade program.
Parcel tax? Just passed in November, the $96 per-parcel tax will raise $1.2 million a year.
Parent power: Dublin Partners in Education and a new Show Up for Education campaign are trying to raise $300,000 to maintain library hours at all schools.
Behind the Numbers
• Michel Masuda-Nash
Although Michel Masuda-Nash won a 2009 state education association award as a first-year teacher, she wants to continue learning how to do a better job. Sadly, she has lost one chance to do so. Dublin teachers agreed to take three-day furloughs—and gave up their staff development days. She says those days helped teachers to learn from one another, collaborate, and see the big picture. “You have to see the forest through the trees in order to keep improving.”
► Lafayette School District
• Strong tradition of parent fundraising plus a parcel tax spared its schools the worst hits.
Enrollment: 3,150. Four elementary schools and one middle school.
Budget 2009–10: $28.8 million.
Budget hit: $1.6 million.
Federal stimulus: $800,000.
Worst blow: Loss of four teaching positions as well as a custodian, and reduced hours for office staff, library, and technology specialists.
Saved: Class sizes have been maintained at 20–1 for grades K–3.
At risk: Larger class sizes in the 2010–11 year.
Parcel tax? Passed in 2007, a $313 per-parcel tax brings in $2.7 million a year.
Parent power: The Lafayette Arts & Science Foundation and individual school fundraising bring in roughly $1.2 million a year, which helps pay for arts programs, garden projects, and parent education. Parents raised an additional $320,000 to fight this year’s budget crisis.
► Livermore Valley Joint Unified
• Staff agreed to take furloughs to save jobs, but sports funding was reduced.
Enrollment: 12,972. Ten elementary schools, four middle schools, two high schools, and three alternative and continuation high schools.
Budget 2009–10: $100 million.
Budget hit: $13 million.
Federal stimulus: $4.8 million.
Worst blow? Funding for team sports was cut by 50 percent, which means schools will either cut sports programs or ask parents to donate for their kids to play.
Class sizes up? Yes. K–3 class sizes are up from 20–1 to 22–1; grades 9–12 are up to 30–1.
Job cuts? Eighty-seven part-time and full-time teachers, aides, and other staff.
Saved for now: Nonteaching staff agreed to take three to five days’ furlough to avoid additional layoffs.
Parcel tax? A five-year $138 per-parcel extension, passed in November, will bring in $3.3 million a year.
Parent power: Parents at individual schools raised more than $2 million, which is spent on everything from supplies to science camp.
Behind the Numbers
[The first-year teacher]
• Danielle Cunningham
Danielle Cunningham found her “home” when hired last year to teach English to ninth-graders at Livermore High. She loved working with kids entering the semiadult world of high school. “They are really open to new ideas and ways of expressing themselves.” Unfortunately, the first-year teacher received her final layoff notice two days before the end of school.
► Martinez Unified
• The city's $500,000 saved teachers' jobs and kept class sizes small.
Enrollment: 3,987. Four elementary schools, one middle school, one high school, and two alternative and continuation high schools.
Budget: $28 million.
Budget hit: $2.1 million.
Federal stimulus: $1.8 million.
Worst blow: Until just a few weeks before school started, the district was looking at raising K–3 class sizes and eliminating the jobs of 17 teachers, a librarian, a counselor, and other staff members. The district had already raised class sizes in the ninth grade and cut an extracurricular program for gifted students and summer school for elementary students.
Saved: The City of Martinez came through with $500,000, which saved those teachers' jobs and allowed the district to keep K–3 classes at 20–1.
Parcel tax? Passed in November, the $50 per-parcel tax will bring in $500,000 a year.
Parent power: Parents, businesses, and community groups are rallying to raise money. They are asking parents to donate $20 to save 20–1 class sizes and are applying for grants, such as a $170,000 grant that saved Briones Independent Study School's environmental education program.
► Mt. Diablo Unified
• Parents rallying to raise money to save high school sports and other programs.
Enrollment: 34,953. Thirty elementary schools, 10 middle schools, six high schools, and nine alternative and small schools.
Budget 2009–10: $267 million.
Budget hit: $30 million.
Federal stimulus: $24 million.
Worst blow: With the failure of Measure D, a $99 per-parcel tax that would have raised $7 million a year, the district has raised class sizes and cut funding for high school sports and fourth- and fifth- grade music programs.
Class sizes up? Yes. Grades 1–3 in most schools are up to 30–1; ninth-grade math and English classes are up to 30–1.
Job cuts: After sending out 400 layoff notices midyear, the district had to eliminate positions for some 100 teachers and 10 managers. Retirements and resignations allowed the district to move some laid-off teachers into those positions.
Saved for now: Special ed programs and alternative schools for students with emotional or mental health issues.
Parent power: United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation was created to raise $720,000 to restore high school sports. Two parents from Ygnacio Valley and Concord high schools have also begun a grassroots campaign to allow residents who supported Measure D to donate the $99 they would have paid for the parcel tax. The campaign has raised roughly $5,000.
Behind the Numbers
• Victoria Kobold
Clayton Valley High’s Victoria Kobold can't imagine not being able to practice and play softball every day, and the junior with a 4.0 and star outfielder worries that cutting sports in Mt. Diablo District’s high schools will hurt her chances of getting recruited to a good college. Parents, teachers, and students from the district’s six high schools have launched a campaign to raise $720,000 to keep students playing.
► Moraga School District
• Donations from parents and a five-year-old parcel tax helped balance the budget.
Enrollment: 1,735. Three elementary schools and one middle school.
Budget 2009–10: $14 million.
Budget hit: $3 million.
Federal stimulus: $700,000.
Worst blow: No layoffs of permanent staff, but the district was unable to hire temporary or probationary workers, or replace staff positions.
Class sizes up? No. They remain at 20–1 for K–3.
Parcel tax? Passed in 2004, the $325 tax brings in about $1.8 million a year.
Parent power: Parent clubs and the Moraga Education Foundation raise about $1.4 million a year to pay for elementary art, music, and PE, plus school library programs and field trips. Parent fundraising also pays for costs once covered by the state, such as $185,000 in upgrades to the district’s computer technology system.
► Orinda Union
• Orinda voters said yes to a hefty parcel tax increase that saved jobs and small class sizes.
Enrollment: 2,422. Four elementary schools and one middle school.
Budget 2009–10: $22 million.
Budget hit: $1.9 million.
Federal stimulus: $734,000.
Worst blow: Loss of a naturalist and the equivalent of six positions in the elementary school libraries, computer instruction, and custodial services.
Class sizes up? No. It remains at 20–1 for K–3.
Saved: Core classroom programs, including limited class sizes.
Parcel tax? Measure B, passed this year, increased the per-parcel tax from $385 to $509 to bring in a total of $3.6 million per year.
Parent power: The parcel tax, the Education Foundation of Orinda, and parents clubs raise about 30 percent of the district’s annual revenue. Parent fundraising will help maintain small class sizes and pay for art, music, and PE.
Behind the Numbers
• Toris Jaeger
Some districts may envy Orinda’s school district. Perhaps the harshest cut it had to make was doing away with its part-time naturalist. But Toris Jaeger, who has been reassigned to a regular classroom, ran an award-winning program, introducing students to their local ecosystem. “Put them together—Toris and Wagner Ranch Nature Area—and you have a unique educational facility,” wrote Contra Costa Times’ Gary Bogue.
► Pleasanton Unified
• Failure of the parcel tax measure led to teacher and staff layoffs.
Enrollment: 14,847. Nine elementary schools, three middle schools, two high schools, and two small and alternative high schools.
Budget 2009–10: $112 million.
Budget hit: $17.7 million.
Federal stimulus: $8.1 million.
Worst blow: The narrow loss of the Measure G parcel tax in June. Its passage could have kept class sizes at 20–1 and kept 150 teachers, counselors, and other staff.
Saved: Keeping K–3 and ninth-grade math and English classes at 25–1 instead of an earlier projected 30–1.
At risk: Summer school programs could be reduced next summer.
Parent power: As the 2008–09 school year ended, the two parent-led foundations started a campaign to raise $2.8 million to restore some of the lost jobs and programs, including lower class sizes and the elementary schools' band and strings program.
► San Ramon Valley Unified
• The district rehired permanent teachers who had received layoff notices.
Enrollment: 27,106. Twenty-one elementary schools, eight middle schools, four high schools, and two alternative and continuation high schools.
Budget 2009–10: $215.5 million.
Budget hit: $11.7 million.
Federal stimulus: $13 million.
Worst blow: Sending out 236 layoff notices to teachers, more than 50 percent of whom work at the new Dougherty Valley High. Fortunately, the district was able to rehire all permanent teachers.
Also saved this year: Most counselors, high school librarians, fifth- grade music programs, and stipends for teachers who coach sports and run extracurricular programs.
Parcel tax? Passed just in May, the Measure C $144 per-parcel tax will bring in $6.7 million per year.
This also helps: Since the district’s enrollment is growing, it will continue to bring in more revenue from the state.
Parent power: The district’s education foundation, plus individual school fundraising and donations to athletic programs, brings in roughly $14 million a year.
Behind the Numbers
• Nicole West
In the weeks before school ended, two Foothill High students talked about committing suicide. Fortunately, friends alerted Nicole West, a school counselor who specializes in helping at-risk youth. She helped get the students hospitalized so that they could receive proper evaluation and treatment. Friends of the teens may have learned how to respond to such emergencies during mental health awareness programs that West helped organize at Foothill. Unfortunately, West won’t be back, a casualty of the Pleasanton District’s need to cut $17.7 million from its budget.
► Walnut Creek School District
• Some teachers lost jobs but the district kept class sizes from increasing too much.
Enrollment: 3,236. Five elementary schools and one middle school.
Budget 2009–10: $23 million.
Budget hit: $3 million.
Federal stimulus: $1.5 million.
Biggest blow: Loss of 10 teachers.
Class sizes up? Yes. K–3 classes are up to at least 25–1.
Saved: Keeping core middle school classes at 25–1.
Parcel tax? Passed in 2005, the $82 per-parcel tax brings in about $1.2 million a year.
Parent power: The Walnut Creek Education Foundation and individual school fundraising brought in about $414,000 this year to pay for art, music, and PE at the elementary schools and to help pay for counselors and library staff at the middle school. ■