I am surprised at the school cutbacks that Cobb parents seem willing to accept in view of their commitment to education, a commitment that has been rewarded with historic high performance. I keep waiting for a revolt among parents over slashes to the education budget at both the state and local level, but it may be that they are resigned to the grim new realities of school funding.
That reality could be even bleaker this year, based on an AJC news story about proposed reductions in both staffing and the school year. I was talking to a teacher yesterday about class size in middle school, and she said the quality loss kicks in when you go higher than 20 students in the class.
I think the days of 20 students in core classes are long gone. We may soon be nostalgic for classes of 25.
After I posted this, I received this pertinent note from a Cobb middle school teacher, which I want to share: With the teacher’s permission:
Reduce the school year– I can live with that.
More furlough days — I don’t like it, but I will accept it.
No salary increase– well, if they are furloughing us and reducing the number of days in the school year, this doesn’t surprise me.
Lay off teachers and increase class sizes AGAIN– that is problematic. Most classrooms are filled to capacity right now.
Physically, there isn’t room for more children without creating a dangerous situation. If you want to give me an extra class to maintain my class sizes, fine. Do away with the middle school concept, take away one of my planning periods, quit with all the extra meetings, and protect my planning period. By this, I mean NO meetings during my planning period. Allow ONE meeting per week only, before school, and keep it at 30 minutes.
And then, keep class sizes where they are now or smaller (for middle school). I will happily give up the extra plan for smaller classes, but only if they leave my planning period alone.
It’s always the teachers– are they going to reduce central office salaries, including our superintendent?
Now, from the AJC:
The school system is facing another deficit next year and Hinojosa told the school board Wednesday that it appears he’ll need to cut 250 teacher positions and 26 paraprofessionals while shortening the school calendar by five days.
“This is a very challenging budget,” he said. Hinojosa blamed ongoing “austerity” cuts from the state for a glaring gap between projected spending and revenue.
Last fall, school system finance chief Mike Addison estimated Cobb’s gap for next school year at over $72 million, an approximation based on incomplete information. The new projection of a $62.4 million deficit is based on more solid numbers, such as next year’s expected enrollment. But key facts, notably the value of the local property tax base, are still unavailable. The new estimates are based on an expected 2 percent drop in the taxable value of real estate, but Addison called that “purely a guess on our part.”
Hinojosa said he could accomplish the reduction in teachers without layoffs, since more than 500 voluntarily leave the system each year. But the cuts would pinch the classroom, increasing the student-teacher ratio by two at every grade level. And the proposal to institute five furlough days would reduce the school calendar to 175 days.
The proposed budget of $880.9 million is up about $29 million from the current $851.8 million budget.
Even with the $18.6 million saved in reduced teaching positions and the $14.5 million from furloughs, the school system would face a deficit of tens of millions of dollars. Hinojosa is also recommending a $5 million reduction in teacher raises and the use of $21.5 million in savings.
The money from the school system’s fund balance is for “rainy days,” Hinojosa noted. “And if it’s not raining now financially, I don’t know when it’s going to start raining,” he said.
Board members are supposed to approve the budget in July.
“We’re going to have to have a lot more discussion,” said board member Lynnda Eagle. “A lot of this burden is going on the backs of teachers.”
Alison Bartlett, another board member, said she was concerned about the continued use of sales tax revenue to fund operations. Hinojosa’s proposal assumes the transfer into operating accounts of $22.2 million in unspent proceeds originally intended for construction. Cobb has made similar transfers over the past two years.
Without the use of that money, the gap would actually be over $84 million. Bartlett also said the increase in class size would be regrettable.
Parent Sarah Lyons said too many of the proposed cuts were being shouldered by teachers. She has a kindergartner and high school junior attending Cobb schools in the Smyrna area and she was chiefly concerned about the increase in the student-teacher ratio. “At some point,” she said, “it’s going to go from teaching to crowd management.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog