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Good and Bad Ideas for Cutting School Funds

January 19, 2003

Re "School Cuts Must Be Deft," Jan. 4:

I couldn't agree more with the editors' position on school testing. The Golden State Exam in my former district, Capistrano Unified, was a disgrace. It took a full day to administer, and students didn't receive knowledge of results until months later

I was told by an administrator that "we are going to be less egalitarian" regarding testing reports.

The district changed the procedure for administering the test almost yearly. Now it's given off-campus. Teacher training was terrible, with a few exceptions.

Taxpayers also should be aware of the games played with average daily attendance. For several years since the STAR test began, seniors at Capistrano Unified campuses are entertained with Senior Day in the gym because the district doesn't know what else to do with them during testing. The games include jousting, an obstacle course and a movie. The Senior Day is the day before the Senior Picnic. And of course seniors have their own Ditch Day.

It's all about average daily attendance and amusing the students. What a waste of minds, taxes and teacher talent.

Jerry Sheahan

Laguna Beach

*

As the saying goes, all politics are local, and that is the way it used to be with school governance. Over the past quarter-century in California, however, and most significantly over the past 10 years, we have seen control of our local schools shift to the state capital. Simply put, Sacramento does not trust local school boards and their superintendents to make wise and prudent decisions on behalf of their constituents.

The economic boom of the mid-1990s drove politicians to make their mark by focusing attention on public education. Very expensive programs that included class size reduction, accountability systems, professional training, rewards and sanctions, intervention and after-school activities, to name a few, raised California's investment in our schools.

However, along with this investment, Sacramento kept a strong hold on the decision-making powers.

The surpluses of the past years have disappeared, replaced by an incredible deficit of more than $30 billion. K-14 education is more than 40% of the state budget, and it would seem reasonable that we shoulder a fair amount of the solution to the state's financial problem.

However, it would not be fair for Sacramento to change its tone now, making the solution to its problem a local responsibility. That is exactly what would occur if the governor adopts an across-the-board reduction and says to the school, "Cut your programs and help us resolve the crisis." Rather, let's proceed along two paths as we seek to find our way out of this dilemma.

First, if the state can no longer afford the expensive programs it put into effect earlier, let it then reduce or eliminate temporarily those programs statewide.

Second, Sacramento might want to inject into its education bureaucracy a breath of flexibility. Allow local school boards to operate their K-3 classes on an average of 20 to 1 rather than to severely punish districts when a new student pushes a primary class to 21. Allow schools to transfer funds from one categorical program to another and permit the use of all funds to help offset the massive special-education encroachments.

Now is the time to look at the bigger picture. Find ways to fund public schools, staying within our means but with the creativity to resolve current problems with long-term solutions.

Marc Ecker, Ph.D.

Superintendent,

Fountain Valley School District

*

Your recent editorial advocating ways to cut the education budget made some very good suggestions. But you lost all credibility when you advised cutting the school year short by one day to save an estimated $80 million in teacher salaries.

Teachers are the only ones who have already had their taxes raised $500 when we lost a state income tax deduction of $500 last year.

Now you want to dock our pay by one day to help balance the budget? How about this instead: Give all state employees one day off without pay.

Surely that would save even more money.

To take this idea even further, how about if every working person in the state donated a day's pay to the state to cover the deficit? After all, that's what you're asking teachers to do.

I'm sure no one in California would mind losing a day's pay to clean up the mess made by the governor and the Legislature.

Karen D. Hamstrom

Huntington Beach

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