As school district across the state cut costs by imposing furlough days that take away from instruction time, some people don’t seem understand that this hurts students and further widens gaps between the “haves” and the “have nots.”
Craig Cheslog, adviser to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, said some parents in districts without furlough days have actually asked why their schools weren’t getting the same “cool” holidays that other districts were scheduling.
“We’re trying to find a way to really sound the alarm,” Cheslog said, when he stopped by the Mt. Diablo school district’s special education Community Advisory Committee meeting on Monday. “Superintendent Torlakson has declared a state of fiscal emergency. But even the things we try to do to deal with the financial crisis are backfiring on us.”
When one district in Santa Clara County scheduled three furlough days during Thanksgiving week, parents in a neighboring district called their superintendent to ask “when he was going to institute that really cool Thanksgiving break,” Cheslog said.
A lot of school districts (such as Mt. Diablo) are scheduling furlough days on Fridays and Mondays because it’s convenient for parents, Cheslog said. But he predicted some districts would start scheduling furloughs on Wednesdays to make the point that they are not holidays.
“Part of it is parents and educators have tried to do their best to shield this from kids,” he said. “But, from what I’m hearing, there aren’t a lot of shields left.”
He said the “full brunt of what’s coming” if schools face an all-cuts state budget is “truly unthinkable.”
Cheslog said he believes elected officials realize the gravity of the situation.
“I think everybody knows the depths of the abyss we are about to go over — what a $700 per student cut would look like,” he said. “I think every legislator in Sacramento understands. I hope it doesn’t go to school districts not starting until October — which is in play — or students doing (STAR) testing and stopping.”
The standard school year in California is 180 days, he said. As part of state budget crisis, school districts have been given the flexibility to reduce it to 175.
Yet, students in other countries spend 200 to 220 days a year in school, he said.
“Those students are getting extra years of education (before graduation),” he said. “We’re going the wrong way.”
Cheslog predicted that some districts won’t be able to afford to stay open 175 days under an all-cuts budget.
“There are some school districts that are going to say, ‘We can’t do it,’” he said. “The penalty is a fine. School districts are going to say, ‘Okay, fine us.’ They’re just going to have to defy the law and say, ‘It’s an emergency,’ and either start late or shut early. And yes, there will be handwringing, but I don’t think there’s any enforcement mechanism that could force open those doors.”
Behind the scenes, Cheslog said some in Sacramento are talking about possibly reducing the school year to about 170 days. However, many people worry that this would mean some students would be getting 10 fewer days of instruction than others.
“There’s talk about the equity issues because there’s still some places at 180 (days),” Cheslog said. “There are a lot of superintendents who would like to see whatever this is statewide, so you don’t have winners and losers and you don’t have parents saying, ‘Well, they’re doing this and you’re an idiot because you’re not doing that.’”
But, the California school system is built on local control, Cheslog said. This means each district must try to figure out for itself how to solve its budget problems.
What he worries about, however, is what could happen if multiple districts decide they have nowhere else to cut.
“You’re going to see whole districts throw up their hands and say, ‘We don’t have the money. What are you going to do?’ The state could take over the district. Then, you have another situation like Oakland.”
He said 147 school districts are teetering on the verge of insolvency.
“The prospect that we might have to take over 10 of them is frightening, because the Department of Education has been cut,” he said. “We don’t do audits. If parents file a Uniform Complaint about something, at the moment, those are being put in a file. There are not Department of Education auditors like there used to be going around inspecting those complaints. Under an all-cuts budget, there’s going to be another cut to the Department of Education, because that’s just math.”
Students from the Mt. Diablo High School “Human Rights” class will host a “Teach-In” to protest the district’s first furlough day on Friday. Here’s a link to the recorded message about the event the district sent out tonight: https://asp.schoolmessenger.com:443/m/?s=6sHnSqpJW6g.
Do you think the public understands that furlough days deprive students of classroom time needed to learn all their lessons by the end of the year?