Schools learn to make do with less cash

jtarica@thetribunenews.comMay 13, 2012 

San Luis Coastal Unified School District is arriving late to the budget-cutting house party, and if you’re one of the delusional people who believe public schools are luxurious, money-wasting havens of inefficiency, maybe that’s overdue news.

They’ve still got plenty of figurative chandeliers to tear down and out-of-date furniture to trash, you might say.

That is, if you see music programs and English-as-a-second-language classes as nonessential baubles that only served to decorate the core curriculum.

If you see them as lights of knowledge that help illuminate our broader understanding or basic stepping-stools that allow our students to reach higher goals, then these kinds of programs are far from the disposable nature some may portray them to be.

Yet here we are, again listening as a local school board targets these subjects in an early-round push toward austerity.

San Luis Coastal has been spared this pain so far because its unique funding structure has insulated it from budget problems that many other local districts have been dealing with for several years.

But the net result today looks disturbingly familiar: plans for larger class sizes, fewer electives, and even — gasp! — less travel money for high school sports teams.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Eric Prater seems to think such cuts are palatable because the district’s been so darn fat and sassy up until now.

“San Luis Coastal enjoys more programs than any other district in the state,” he said at last week’s meeting.

I find that very hard to believe. Stats, please.

“We are in the process of prioritizing what is most important to us,” Prater added. “The initiatives really speak to the education and demonstrable learning of kids. All the other programs we offer and the specialists we are using to do it need to be under scrutiny.”

I find that very easy to believe (but not necessarily agree with) because this is the way it always is when purse strings get tightened.

The practical upshot of these changes, as usual, will be to shove more work on the regular classroom teacher, who now gets to add some level of expertise in music and bilingual education to their repertoires.

But, take heart, fans of public education. The news this week was not all dark.

Over the Grade, at least one principal is showing a bit of innovative thinking.

To help cope with his budget issues, Templeton High School’s Thomas Harrington is going straight to the parents and asking for their support, and not in any vague way, either.

He’s imploring each and every family to open their wallets and donate at least $50. The money will make up for lost state and federal funds and go toward purchasing art supplies, science equipment, library materials and more.

My applause goes out to Principal Harrington.

This is the kind of thing we need to pursue more. This is how we protect our schools, by showing personal ownership.

We will not help our kids succeed by counting on the state. We will help them by rallying as a community, by volunteering our time and money to ensure they get the same level of education we did before them.

“We’re not just teaching between 8 (a.m.) and 3 (p.m.). We’re not just teaching those core subjects,” Harrington told The Tribune. “We’re trying to create well-rounded students.”

Right on.

Update on the apples

Apple-growing enthusiasts came out in force last week to get a piece of the late Dr. John DeVincenzo’s hybrid trees.

“Joe Sabol could not deliver the scion wood fast enough,” reported Farm Supply’s Cara Crye. “People were running in as if we were giving away gold.”

Sabol restocked Farm Supply’s cache twice, and by midday Tuesday, all the wood was gone. In all, Sabol estimated they gave away more than 75 bags.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor at The Tribune.

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