Budget needs to focus on lessening schools’ pain

Give local school leaders an “A” in optimism. The school funding situation is about as bleak as it’s ever been, yet at an education forecast last week, the focus was on improving schools, particularly in the area of technology.

“We’ve got to move forward,” said Jim Hogeboom, superintendent of South County schools, “even though we have insufficient funds.”

While we admire the approach, we find it hard to be upbeat when California schools face what’s been dubbed a “doomsday” budget scenario. Without the tax extensions Gov. Jerry Brown has been seeking, the 10 local school districts stand to lose an additional $20 million to $22 million, on top of reductions that have already occurred over the past few years.

We wonder, what’s left to cut?

Schools already have increased the size of classes; some have slashed budgets for sports, eliminated summer school classes and/or instituted furloughs; many have either cut back on home-to-school transportation or they’ve started charging parents a transportation fee. At least one district that we know of — Lucia Mar — is looking at possibly closing a school.

Again, what’s left to cut?

We posed the question to County Schools Superintendent Julian Crocker.

He sees three possible approaches:

Institute across-the-board pay cuts for all faculty and staff.

Lay off more teachers, which would likely result in classes of 40 students. (Class sizes now average between 30 and 35, Crocker estimated.)

Drastically shorten the school year; as much as one month would have to be cut in order to save $20 million, Crocker said.

Won’t happen, you say?

Maybe not — but do we really want to force districts to make such choices?

Haven’t schools — and kids — already given up enough?

We pose those questions, in particular, to our state legislators, Sen. Sam Blakeslee and Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian.

Does either of you really want to preside over a state where school officials are forced to consider — even theoretically — trimming a month from the school year?

Bad enough that California ranks 43rd in per-student spending. Are we aiming to be dead last?

If the answer is no, then we challenge you to do all in your power to keep doomsday at bay.

We recognize that a special June election to extend taxes is a lost cause, though Brown is shopping around his plan to get the taxes on the November ballot.

There’s also speculation that Brown may try to persuade a handful of Republicans to vote in favor of tax extensions — avoiding the need for an election — in exchange for concessions such as pension reform.

We urge our local legislators to listen to all proposals with open minds. Certainly, work for pension reform, a spending cap and other Republican goals. And by all means, slash any unnecessary programs, exorbitant salaries and other wasteful expenditures that remain in the budget.

But allow schools to focus on moving forward — as Hogeboom urged — rather than worrying about whether they’ll have enough money to keep their doors open for nine months of the year.