One proposal is to move the areas serviced by school buses farther away from the schools, forcing more students to have to walk to school. Not a bad idea considering America’s fight with childhood obesity; however, what message is being sent when another proposal is to sell naming rights of school buildings? Walk to school, take your health and nutrition class in the McFast Food Building.
Another proposal is a 20-percent bus fare increase. Children who qualify for free busing will not be impacted; however, consider the impact on the paying ridership. With car pools and teenage drivers, those left to take the bus are likely from families on the brink of poverty; one-car families. A 20-percent hike may force those families over the brink.
Yet another proposal is to recover lost revenue by imposing a parcel tax. Apparently the district has not noticed soaring unemployment, numerous foreclosed and pending foreclosure homes. The district is not alone in facing financial hard times. A voter approval of a parcel tax in such pressing hard times? Get real!
Perhaps these and many of the other ludicrous proposals are merely a smoke screen to make us believe that all other options were considered, when the actual goal is to trim $3.8 million from the budget through layoffs.
The administration continuously stated these cuts are needed because the state is not sending enough money. There is no magic money tree in Sacramento. State money is our money, collected from state levied taxes and fees. The district spends our money to educate our children in a safe healthy environment. When cuts are needed, utmost care should be taken to protect that mission. Each layoff, from classroom teacher to maintenance, administrator to secretary, weakens the district’s ability to provide a safe, healthy learning environment.
It is apparent that the district is more concerned with spending our money on themselves rather than on our children. To be fair, the proposed layoffs seem to be evenly spread out among administrative, classified and non-classified staff; however, there still seems to be no regard for the impact these layoffs will have on the community that provides tax dollars to the district.
Layoffs mean increased class size, canceled programs, reduced availability of after-school activities, dirty campuses and neglected repairs leading to unsafe conditions. The district is one of the region’s largest employers; many of the employees live within the district. The trickle-down effect is predictable. How many more foreclosures can we absorb; can local businesses already struggling with a poor economy afford to lose more customers; and will crime increase as poverty impacts more families and the children of these families lose access to after school programs?
Layoffs are inevitable; however, the district is not going far enough to preserve jobs. These are extraordinary times but it is not too much to demand extraordinary measures be taken to preserve as much of our stellar school system as possible. Now is the time for our elected school board members to stand up and take a leadership role in protecting the high standards of education we expect.
In the 2008-09 school year the district spent $42,093,827 in salaries and benefits, not including the salaries and benefits of administration. Adding in the administrative salaries and benefits, an across-the-board pay cut of just over 7 percent would cover the entire $3.8 million, no jobs lost and no programs cut. District employees would have to tighten their belts, but who in our community has been exempt from belt tightening?
It is not realistic to suggest a 7 percent pay cut, but is 3 or 3½ percent unreasonable? This is our money being spent. Every job saved means a better education for our children and goes a long way to prevent the trickle-down effects a layoff can have on our community. Yes, the district has contracts with its unions, but if all parties agree to a pay cut, what would stand in the way of implementing a paycut?
In these hard times, workers in private industry across America have agreed to pay cuts to save their jobs and the companies they work for. Until across-the-board pay cuts are on the table, our communities should not feel as if the school district and our elected representatives are doing everything they can to provide our children with an education in a safe, healthy environment.
School districts get their funding based on daily attendance. Our district needs to be reminded that bargaining units are not the only ones who can strike. Parents can strike by keeping their children home until the district does everything possible to spend our tax dollars on our children, and that includes putting across-the-board pay cuts on the table.
Mark Schwartz is a former Liberty Union High School District trustee.