The butchering of education over the last several years has been methodically slow and sad. Addressing what may have been perceived as bloat, the cutbacks since the onset of the recession in 2008 have made an impact but the basic institutional structure seemed intact at first. Districts of all grade levels experienced their fair share of program and service cuts as well as hundreds of pink slips, though many compromises have been made, such as furloughs, to save jobs, maintain classes and keep class sizes from growing too big. This last week, however, the remedy chosen to balance local school budgets appears to be especially troubling.
On March 13, the Ventura Community College District Board decided to shut down all cafeterias in the district, eliminating 10 jobs and saving $395,778. On March 15, the district told 100 employees, mainly classified workers such as administrative assistants and library assistants, that their jobs would either be eliminated or hours reduced, saving the district $3 million. At the same time, district officials announced that between 250 and 500 classes may be headed to the chopping block, making it harder for students to get the classes they need to graduate or transfer to four-year institutions. On March 20, officials for the California State University System announced that, if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative is rejected by voters, they would close spring admissions on most campuses and only accept several hundred community college transfer students. Last year, CSU admitted approximately 16,000 students. Though CSU, Channel Islands, would be one of the campuses to accept spring transfer students, the number of students is yet to be determined. Local community college students looking to transfer in spring 2013 to the local Cal State University or elsewhere may be out of luck.
Primary education isn’t doing so well either. On March 13, Ventura Unified School District officials discussed the $8 million shortfall facing the district. To balance the budget, the proposed solution included bigger class sizes and layoffs of 75 teachers and counselors. Teachers agreed to take 10 more furlough days, but it was unclear how much money that would save the district. Same story went for districts across the county — pink slips, once feared, are now the norm as a precautionary measure to warn teachers of possible layoffs: Simi Valley Unified School District sent out more than 30 pink slips; Conejo Valley Unified School District sent out 49 pink slips; and Oxnard School District officials sent out pink slips to 20 temporary teachers.
While it is certain that bloated salaries of higher-ups and unfunded pensions are problematic — situations that hurt the credibility of those making pleas to voters to pay more taxes to fund education — there is, nevertheless, a real crisis going on, as seen in the above items. Unfortunately, skepticism remains high among taxpayers in regard to shelling out more money to help deal with the looming shortfalls. Polls, including a recent survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, are showing that few are on board to vote in favor of raising taxes in November. If Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative is rejected, there is sure to be more bad news coming from our area school districts.
If the general public isn’t willing to pay more in taxes, perhaps it is prepared to deal instead with the consequences of a flailing education system. A recent survey of incarcerated teens at the Ventura County Juvenile Hall Facility showed that most, if not all, shared one thing in common — education was a low priority. What taxpayers may not realize is that housing one incarcerated teen for one year is estimated to cost more than $200,000, according to various sources. If we pronounce loud and clear that education isn’t important, should we expect anything different from our children? If kids don’t think school is important because we don’t advocate for it, but education has been identified as one of the best crime deterrents, we better get our checkbooks ready to pay to house the children who choose crime over education.