Monday, November 30 , 2015, 3:09 pm | Fair 64º

Tom Torlakson and Bill Cirone: School Budget Cuts Taking a Steep Toll

Districts in Santa Barbara County and throughout the state are in fiscal jeopardy

By Tom Torlakson and Bill Cirone |

Do you think California’s schools can withstand another round of budget cuts?

Ask the high-schoolers studying English with Desa Mandarino, the first-graders in Rosalie Jones’ class, the kindergartners with Nancy O’Halloran or the music students of Teri Lynn Regalado-Yepez.

The English “scholars,” as she calls them, in Mandarino’s classes at San Marcos High School take part in the school’s rigorous, nine-week block schedule. They will be losing up to nine school days — nearly two weeks of learning — should further cuts be necessary.

In Jones’ room at Taylor Elementary School, the classroom isn’t big enough for the 32 students to also have a reading area. Some students are sitting behind desks and have to peek around the legs to see Jones reading a story. Jones fears the hardest hit are those students in the middle academically, not struggling or needing extra challenges, because there isn’t enough time for the individual attention she strives to give every student.

O’Halloran’s kindergarteners at Tunnell Elementary most likely will soar in number. Classroom staples such as paper and supplies will get used up much more quickly, leading to a drastic reduction in art and other hands-on projects.

Sadly, the 325 music students in Regalado-Yepez’s glee club, music appreciation and remedial programs for periods 0 and 7 at Carpinteria Middle School were devastated that their teacher was laid off, and that periods 0 and 7 were eliminated all together.

Across California, three straight years of budget cuts have created a financial emergency in our schools. Collectively, schools have lost $18 billion in funding during the last three years, roughly a third of what it costs to run our schools for a year.

As a result, California has fallen to 47th in the nation in school funding per student. Thousands of teachers, nurses, counselors and other school employees have lost their jobs. More than 100 school districts are in fiscal jeopardy.

Schools in Santa Barbara County are hurting right along with the rest of the state.

Local school districts’ plans to deal with a $19.6 million loss countywide include a doubling down on cuts that have already been made: extending furlough days for teachers and staff, increasing class sizes, reducing the school year up to nine days in some cases, and cutting transportation and summer school. Every district will have to cut educational programs. To date, 173 teachers have received layoff notices countywide, as well as 81 staff and managers.

Recognizing that schools have already endured too many cuts, Gov. Jerry Brown made some wise but difficult decisions about balancing California’s budget. He proposed steep cuts to many programs, spared schools from further reductions and extended several temporary tax measures.

The governor’s proposal represents a sharp departure from what has become the norm in Sacramento at budget time. For years, rather than finding a long-term solution to the deficit, the state has cut, borrowed and used accounting gimmicks to paper over the problem.

Recognizing that it’s finally time to put California’s fiscal house back in order, most lawmakers have — reluctantly — signed on to support the governor’s plan. But his proposal can’t take effect without bipartisan support, and no Republicans have signed on.

Some are suggesting that the modest recovery we have seen in revenue projections are sufficient, and that we can forgo the tax extensions without impacting education.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Even if every dollar of new projected revenues went to education, they wouldn’t make up for the billions of dollars in cuts and funding deferrals public schools have suffered in recent years.

What’s more, our schools can’t wait any longer for a budget agreement. By law, school districts are required to finalize their budgets by July 1. Without action by the Legislature that includes passage of the tax extensions, our schools could be forced to carry out yet another round of cuts.

We are at a tipping point for California’s future. Despite our budget woes, student performance has improved every year.

And in every corner of California, students are eager to learn, parents are engaged and active in their children’s education, and teachers, administrators and school employees are working day and night to help our students achieve.

But veteran teachers are becoming demoralized. Energetic young teachers are losing their jobs. And we’re at risk of losing an entire generation of potential teachers who will never enter the most important profession in the world.

For decades, world-class public schools and universities were the economic engines that fueled California’s success. We have a shared responsibility — and a keen self-interest — in their future.

Please ask your state senator and Assembly member to support a realistic plan to stop further cuts to schools, and put California back where it belongs — leading the way.

Tom Torlakson is California’s superintendent of public instruction. Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.

comments powered by Disqus

» on 06.21.11 @ 06:00 AM

Oh please - sure I am going to ask my state senator or representative to please raise my taxes to support the massive, bloated state bureaucracy that keeps growing like wildflower. I noticed that County employees are going to receive 7% raises this year while all kinds of services, including public safety, are being cut. By the way, I would love to know what Cirone and Torlakson do to warrant their outsized salaries. Are these positions really necessary? Maybe they should go first and volunteer to eliminate their jobs, considering that no one has ever explained to me what the heck they do.

» on 06.21.11 @ 01:47 PM

I agree with Lou Segal.

Contacting our assembly member will do as much good as talking to my Hound Dog.  We need great financial leadership in the state and I do not see it at any level.

So Mr. Torlakson and Mr. Cirone stop crying and start showing some leadership.

» on 06.21.11 @ 08:35 PM

I would like to issue a challenge to anyone out there to tell us what Cirone actually does for a living and how it benefits children in our public schools. So far no one has been able to answer this question. I am waiting.

» on 06.22.11 @ 01:29 PM

Here’s an idea…why don’t we redirect all the resources of the County Superintendent’s office to the classrooms? Can we really afford to waste millions on a gigantic bureaucracy that does nothing to benefit students’ day to day classroom experience?

» on 07.05.11 @ 07:26 PM

Right on Lou! We were talking about this 20 years ago at school site councils. Where was all the Lotto money going, why were we paying more in taxes yet every school site kept getting less and less every year? The answer was simple enough, that big fat bloated black hole called Sacramento. Screw these people, they are parasites only interested in preserving their little bureaucratic fiefdoms at the expense of the children they pretend to care for.

» on 07.06.11 @ 05:04 AM

I agree AN50. I have been commenting on most of Cirone’s columns because he is always harping about needing more money for schools. However, he has never answered any of my questions regarding union pensions, tenure, or merit pay. Recently, I have been trying to figure out what the heck does he do everyday, considering that every public school in Santa Barbara County already has a superintendent. Sometime ago, I issued a challenge to anyone out there if they could tell me why his job is necessary. Do schools really need two superintendents? So far no one has responded. Inasmuch as the county is experiencing a budget crisis, it is a huge mystery why someone does not take a hard look at his office to see whether they really need this extra layer of bureaucracy.

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