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Midyear “trigger cuts” likely for California schools

By Katy Murphy
Wednesday, November 16th, 2011 at 9:44 pm in budget, finances, state news.

OAKLAND UPDATE: OUSD spokesman Troy Flint said the district could be forced to absorb midyear cuts of up to $5.5 million, or $190 per student, as a result of the trigger cuts. He said the 2011-12 budget accounts for this possibility. So for this year anyway, he said, “Any impact would be slight and we definitely would not make cuts to schools.”

Alameda Unified schools appear to be similarly situated, according to this letter to parents from Superintendent Kirsten Vital.

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The news today out of the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office was not good for public education in California: The LAO has forecasted that state tax revenues will fall $3.7 billion short of the level on which the June budget deal was based.

About $1.4 billion in automatic, mid-year cuts to k-12 schools and community colleges will be triggered if the shortfall is $2 billion or greater. Steve Harmon, our Capitol reporter, lays it out here.

The final word on the trigger cuts comes on December 15, when the Department of Finance issues its predictions. The rosier of the two projections prevails.

The below graphic, reproduced with permission from School Services of California, Inc., helps to break it down. A provision of the trigger law prohibits teacher layoffs, and some districts — though not OUSD –have considered shaving more days off the school year if the cuts come to pass.

Trigger law, explained

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  • Former Hills Parent

    @Livegreen. Just FYI, I’m not only referring to elementary school but also to middle and high schools. I know not everything I wrote applies to your school, but as a whole there is no doubt that OUSD schools face substantial challenges not found in some other nearby districts. Do you agree?

    The truth is that my family could have moved out of Oakland earlier, but we stuck around for the good elem school and the community that we had until my oldest hit middle school. Then it was time for us to make a different choice. I wish that OUSD was able to retain more of middle and upper middle class families.

    A few of you, maybe even many of you, stick it out with varying degrees of success, but the fact remains that a good portion of families leave public schools because their needs aren’t being met. I look at my oldest’s kindergarten class photo and realize that several of those kids have moved to better school districts. Others went private or charter for middle school. The numbers speak for themselves. Why isn’t OUSD doing more to reach these families?

  • Ms. J.

    Just in reference to the mention in #49 of class size and studies which show it doesn’t matter:

    It matters. It matters VISCERALLY to the teachers who go from 20 to 30 kids in a class. As one such teacher, I can say that teaching 10 additional kids is MUCH harder and MUCH less fun. I know that I am not supposed to care about my own situation at all because it’s all about the students, but at the most basic level I will say it frankly: I am less happy teaching 30 kids than 20, for many reasons. It is noisier, it is more contentious, there is less room physically, and it is much less feasible to do cooperative work with more children, especially in the lower grades when the other kids are less independent. There are more children who have more needs which I can less easily meet, and situations which could be addressed with ease in a class of 20 escalate more quickly in a class of 30.

    If teachers in my situation have options to switch districts they may wish to do so, even more than they wish to be loyal to their students and schools, because quality of life matters.

    But aside from the “selfishness” of such an attitude (and I don’t accept that that selfishness is bad, nor that teachers who have chosen this unselfish profession have in so doing sworn away any rights to care about their working situation), which may cause effective teachers to go elsewhere and therefore hurt kids in OUSD, there are other reasons class size matters:

    It’s harder to manage 30 kids.
    It’s harder for each individual kid to be heard.
    It’s harder to differentiate for 30 kids.
    It’s harder to resolve the conflicts of 30 kids.
    It’s harder to run hands-on activities and do cooperative group work with 30 kids.

    Some of the people who refer to research which shows ‘class size doesn’t make a difference’ are also the people who pay a premium for very low class sizes for their own kids. (Bill Gates is the most famous example). This suggests to me that in this instance as in others, those who seek to influence public education of urban and poor children (many of them children of color) have a different standard for other people’s children than for their own.

    A scripted, rigid curriculum with children in rows progressing at the same rate and saying the same words no matter what their actual individual needs is good enough for the crowded classrooms these ‘reformers’ seek to ‘help.’ Not so for their own children.

  • Steven Weinberg

    There is no question that lower class sizes improve the academic performance of students. The classic study of class size reduction was the STAR study in Tennessee which showed significant gain in both reading and math. See http://www2.ed.gov/offices/OESE/ClassSize/myths.htm.

    A look at the state test scores for Oakland middle schools gives further evidence. Those middle schools that have been able to significantly reduce class sizes as part of the Quality Education Improvement Act (QEIA) have shown the biggest improvement in test scores over the last several years.

    The studies that are often cited against class size reduction do not claim that it does not work, only that it is not worth the money. It seems that depends upon whose money it is, and whose children are being helped. Many of the same people who say that class size reduction is not cost effective for other people’s children pay big bucks to send their own children to private schools with far lower class sizes.

  • Cranky Teacher

    JR: I am an OUSD teacher and make 41K a year, working fulltime. You work in technology in the Bay Area and make less than that?

    Really?

  • J.R.
  • J.R.

    Cranky,
    BTW, the average salary of $53K per year for teachers is so distorted because there are an excessive number of teachers in Oakland and as I said the new teachers are way underpaid. As far as the budget goes, the administration eats up a pretty hefty chunk.

    http://www.calchamber.com/pressreleases/pages/californiaeducationstudyrevealsdisturbingtrend.aspx

  • Nextset

    Livegreen: Good Point. Presumably all OUSD are not the same schools. I should be more careful to make that distinction in the future.

    I have been working with averages and such stats. Like the one about the Black Drop rate and the Black Verbal and Math Scores.

    Yes I know that there are going to be schools within OUSD that are free of this particular pathology.

    I supposed my problem is that I want those schools to be open to high functioning students regardless of their zip codes. And above all I want an OUSD High School that is every bit as good as Lowell High School in SF, or Piedmont High School. And I want that high school to be open to applicants citywide – like Lowell is.

    This is not going to happen apparently. The racial politics in creating and maintaining such a school is too much for Oakland – they’d have to admit that all are not created equal and they won’t do it. So no such open and academically elite school for OUSD.

    If you say you have a sweet school where all is going well – please post the stories, we need them.

  • Harold

    “there is an excessive number of teachers in Oakland”

    yeah, we have 12 to 1 student to Teacher ratio across the district …

    … what we do have is too many administrators in Harper Building.

    Q. What happens to administrators in Oakland when we go back to large/comprehensive schools? Do they get pink slips like classroom Teachers?

  • J.R.

    Harold,
    Haven’t we covered this ground before? We have too many administrators,schools and teachers for the student population.

    http://www.eastbayexpress.com/ebx/oakland-unified-has-too-many-schools/Content?oid=1725235

  • Cranky Teacher

    JR,

    I’m not a new teacher in Oakland. Been doing this 5-7 years. Gotta keep amassing post-grad credits if you want to climb that payscale quickly, and school costs $$ & time.

    Some more numbers:

    Our OEA average pay is 14K less than state average.
    Our max is 70K after 30 years with tons of post-grad credits.
    Our max is 10K less than average teacher max statewide.
    Inner East Bay is one of the most expensive places to live on the planet.
    Median household income in our Congressional district is 44K.
    Per capita income in the Bay Area is 30K.

    Or how about this: I make less than 70 percent of AMERICANS over 25 with the same education credentials I have (BA + 2 yrs post-grad). Check it out:
    http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d10/tables/dt10_392.asp
    And how many of them live in places with a much lower cost of living?

    If I do my job even halfway well, I’m working 50 hours a week. If I want to be great, 70. I have 180 students in my classes right now. Each one has a story, a way of learning, a personality, a home life. We are supposed to call their parents or guardians if they struggle. Many have IEPs which mandate individual learning plans.

    I know, I get Summers off, but I have no way of just plugging into an income for those 10 weeks. I usually spend half my summer in “professional development” trainings, sometimes paid at the district rate of $23 an hour.

    Yet you say we are grossly pampered? Overpaid?

    I just don’t see it, JR, I’m sorry.

    I really don’t want to be a martyr or whiner. I chose this path and, honestly, am glad I did. I also know I make much more than the parents of my students who are cleaning houses or clearing brush or closing up a Starbucks.

    But I have to keep pushing back against this idea that our wages in OUSD are fair or even excessive when compared to our education, workload, experience and skillset.

    Pay me a solid middle class wage appropriate to this economy and I will gladly give up the job security protections that you find so onerous.

  • J.R.

    Cranky,
    If you are going to quote me please do so, but do it verbatim(pampered,no overpaid, the inferior ones yes. I have said that any teacher who doesn’t perform well(with the exception of newbies) is probably overpaid. if you want my honest opinion I think beginning salary for teachers is way too low, which is a real problem that gets magnified because of step and column(you cannot afford to pay beginning teachers more because the veteran teachers make so much(I will never understand why P.E. teachers make just as much as regular teachers). On to an example: we have this teacher at a particular school in this district where I help out and she just officially retired this year. There is a running inside joke(among parents of her students and ex students) that she has actually been retired for a decade. If that is the case, it isn’t very funny at all, and the parents will say(and studies back this up) that the students have a hard time making up for that year spent in her class. It is the same effect that social promotion has, kids that struggle are two years behind and slipping even further behind. You personally may want to entertain the idea of trading job security for pay increase but your union will never do it. The politicians in this state dance to the tune of the unions, that’s a fact.

    http://www.city-journal.org/2010/20_2_california-unions.html

  • Harold

    @J.R. – you keep saying that “veteran teachers make so much”.

    They don’t in Oakland.

    P.E. is just as important as anything else students need to learn at school.

  • J.R.

    Harold,
    School(ing) is an intellectual pursuit first and foremost, anything that deviates from that pursuit interferes with instructional time and is by definition of less importance than academic subjects. Health and fitness are a way of life(nutrition and exercise), and a little here and there at school won’t make much difference if any.

  • On The Fence

    Not so, J.R! There is more and more evidence that exercise and brain functioning are more highly linked than once thought. Physical education may, in fact, be one of the subjects that is most important in aiding our children’s intellectual achievement. The New York Times has had some interesting articles on this over the past few years. It is really quite fascinating.

  • J.R.

    OTF,
    Are you claiming that a little exercise will counteract the poor diet many if not most of these same kids are fed at home and also consume in the cafeteria? If you are going to discuss brain function then you must know that nothing will impair brain function like a poor diet, exercise or not.

    http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/childrens-health/articles/2009/03/04/school-lunches-too-fatty-and-sugary-critics-say

    http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/what-are-your-kids-having-for-lunch

    http://www.livestrong.com/article/395372-diseases-from-eating-unhealthy-school-lunches/

  • Cranky Teacher

    J.R., do you think teachers unions might be willing to move off job security if pay was dramatically increased — say, 25%?

  • On the Fence

    No, J.R. Why would you ever deduce that I am claiming that “a litte exercise will counteract the poor diet many if not most of these same kids are fed at home” from what I wrote? Your reframing of my post is absurd because I did not specify a specific cohort of kids for whom exercise was advantageous, nor did I make any claims about nutrition, whatsoever.

    I gave you a heads up about new information pertaining to the benefits of exercise with respect to brain functioning and intellectual achievement.

    One of the traits that is exhibited in your posts is extreme mental rigidity. It seems to be difficult for you to take in other views and new information.

  • J.R.

    Cranky,
    If it were possible to do that(which it isn’t for budget reasons)there would need to be a major shift of policy on unions part, and I don’t see that happening. The unions have a laser-like focus on their own interests mostly their own survival(and their members to a lesser extent)which is why you have mandatory union dues and only a miniscule refund for opting not to join.

  • J.R.

    OTF,
    Your words “There is more and more evidence that exercise and brain functioning are more highly linked than once thought.Physical education may, in fact, be one of the subjects that is most important in aiding our children’s intellectual achievement”. I brought up nutrition because it has been proven to be a big factor in brain function, and therefore learning. You are making the statement that intellectual achievement may be aided by exercise(unproven), and I am telling you that the bigger problem these kids face is poor diet which definitely affects the brain chemistry(proven). Physical Education as it currently exists, is nothing more than a make-work job, boondoggle, waste of time and money(neither of which this state can spare).

  • Turanga_teach

    That’s a pretty sweeping statement, JR, and there’s a fair bit of research (Satcher 2005, Taras 2005, just to cite two studies published in peer-reviewed journals) that would contest your assertion that physical activity in schools in unconnected to academic achievement. I could also give you many many dozens of firsthand anecdotal reports on the “brain activity” of a 6 year old who’s had afterschool physical activity curtailed due to an unsafe neighborhood and schoolday physical activity curtailed due to a misguided belief that only the 3Rs matter (hint: it may actually be possible to climb the walls in the classroom if you first try to sit for 4 consecutive hours).

    Children live, move, and LEARN in a body. And well structured, carefully delivered physical education (the kind that’s happening right now in my Oakland public school) helps tremendously with learning processes that carry through to the academic classroom. One tiny example: bilateral coordination (crossing the midline) connects to an individual’s ability to access both sides of the brain in order to process information and solve problems.

    I’m right there with you on the issues of diet. Schools, though, have bugger-all control on that, regardless of how hard we might try to push the veggies. Exercise is something that schools CAN deliver, and there are benefits well beyond giving someone a “make-work job”.

  • J.R.

    Turanga,
    One period of exercise is not going to make much difference(when stacked against a bad diet), the healthy diet is going to make a much bigger impact on the children’s well being than does exercise. This is about priorities as well(because of the budget), academics must come first and we are shorting the kids on classroom time as it is(academic performance in this district has suffered for decades as has graduation rates are proof of that). Not even poverty and crime are as large a determinant in academics as we seem to make them. These kids are being poorly served and unspoken policies such as social promotion just magnify the problem.BTW, all these factors: poverty,crime,home-life,diet are bigger determinants of academic success than is a little exercise. Fitness is much more than just getting one period of P.E. per day(if that)some districts get P.E. just two and three times a week.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UC77oMoaWZE

  • OUSD Parent

    I don’t know about all of the studies and peer review articles, but I can tell you that as a parent I believe that PE is CRITICAL to learning. The years that my kids had teachers that recognized that movement and exercise helped the kids sit still, so they could learn, were the years where my kids experienced the most success and learning. Our OUSD elementary school has parent funded PE 2-3 days a week depending on the grade level. In addition there are several teachers who get the kids out on the yard moving on the days that there isn’t formal PE. I say the more opportunity to move, the better. Our local middle school (Montera) has PE 5 days a week. I would not be happy If that was cut due to trigger cuts. Just wanted to share my humble point of view.

  • J.R.

    This might answer a few questions regarding what is critical to learning, and or kids not focusing and climbing the classroom walls. Here is the clincher:

    http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1897920,00.html

    http://www.dyslexia-parent.com/mag38.html

    http://www.feingold.org/PF/wisconsin1.html

  • Livegreen

    I second OUSD Parent’s comments