Citizens need to act to save our schools

phild2008@sbcglobal.netMay 24, 2012 

How many school days should there be in a school year: 180, 174, 172, or less or more?

Paso Robles pupils have usually gone to their public schools 180 days a year. But this school year they’re going six fewer days, just 174. Next school year they’ll lose two more days, leaving only 172. Is that enough? Is 180 enough?

For two weeks this month, the pupils went to school only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. They also didn’t go to school today. And on June 4 they’ll miss their sixth day of the year.

Educators call those missed days “furlough” days. On furlough days, pupils receive no education, and teachers, administrators and other employees receive no pay. All school operations close down except for serving some special education students and preparing meals that the district has contracted to supply to other districts.

Kathleen McNamara, the Paso Robles schools superintendent, said the district resorted to furlough days to avoid possible financial failure. Other school districts around California have also used furlough days to manage budget deficits. She said Paso Robles’ six furlough days this year saved the district $1.1 million.

She also said the district’s operating costs continue to increase, while the operating money provided by the state continues to shrink. Over the past four years, it shrank 21 percent. Earlier this year, she notified the county superintendent of schools that the Paso Robles district might be unable to pay its bills this year or for the next two.

McNamara said the Paso Robles school district is supposed to have a reserve fund of at least 3 percent of budget, but its reserve had shrunk to less than 1 percent. She was pleased to report Tuesday night that the reserve had bounced back to 2.57 percent. She said the district also cut spending, “streamlined” its accounting and laid off employees when enrollment declined.

But Paso Robles pupils are still in jeopardy. They can’t, however, expect much help from the state. Our legislators and governor produce budgets every year based on predictions that would embarrass a carnival fortuneteller. The current state budget for this fiscal year, which ends June 30, is now $16 billion out of balance.

California’s once fine school system could end up in the Dumpster. We citizens need to organize; go to school board meetings; learn how school districts work; make it our hobby; make it a club project; become school volunteers; become citizen lobbyists.

Reach Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.

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