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Furlough days: fun or foul?

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, May 4th, 2011 at 6:44 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

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?

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  • Teacher

    I work at Mt. Diablo High, and our kids could use the instructional days we are losing. Our test scores are lower than most schools in the district and three days of lost instruction is a lot for our population. In the days of necessary STAR test score improvement, we are carrying out actions that will not lead our students to success. More instructional days are needed, not less.

  • Susan Townsend

    Shame on the MDUSD school board for resorting to furlough days before cutting their own pay, before pricey consultants were cut, before triple digit district administrators were cut, and before testing expenses were cut. This is a shortsighted money grab by the district to once again take away from teachers. Is it fair that MDUSD students will have fewer days yet be compared to other districts with the same CST? Some AP and Honors classes will not be accepted by college and universities now. This was a huge mistake and MDUSD teachers are angry and suffering from severe low morale. I support teachers that say enough is enough and are NOW refusing to grade papers, communicate with parents, complete lesson plans or attend meetings on their own personal time. Many people don’t realize that teachers work at least 10 hours every single week for FREE. Shame on MDUSD!

  • Parent

    Susan Townsend,

    The MDUSD board did take a pay cut last year in the amount of 5%.

    Also I call your bluff on AP classes because other school districts in the county, such as San Ramon and Acalanes, also took furlough days.

  • Doctor J

    @ Parent 5% of what ? Quit kidding yourself.

  • Billy Bob

    Do the YV administrators get to go on their Oregon field trip? Will they get to stay at a Marriott level hotel like Dr. Browne and her entourage?

  • Parent

    5% of the orginal $750. Doctor J…you know that already. You could have answered your own question.

  • Doctor J

    @Parent. Ok, so they took a cut of $37.50. Big deal. No cut to their mega health care benefit.

  • Doctor J

    @BillyBob, yes the Board approved the Oregon boondoggle. The word on the street is that the “Browne 5″ are trying to figure out how to get reimbursed without using district funds. LOL.

  • g

    Took a cut??? How can we continue to call it a volunteer “stipend” while paying MDV benefits? Especially to someone who (seems to me) got his big (Schrader) job opportunity this past year as a direct result of peddling his “volunteer” work!

    Base: $8,802 MDV: $17,854 Other: $804 Total cost to the children of the district: $27,460 —-SHAMEFUL! That EXTRA 18 Grand could have paid for a part time classroom aide!!

  • Theresa Harrington

    Speaking of Jack Schreder and Associates, the board approved another contract with that firm for $14,500 last night. As he has done in the past, Board President Gary Eberhart abstained from the vote without comment. His boss, Seward Schreder, is Jack Schreder’s son.
    Hansen voted against the contract, saying the firm has already collected all the information it needs to study new boundaries based on its work for the School Closure Advisory Committee. John Parker, a CUES and Measure C and School Closure Advisory Committee member, also said he didn’t think the firm would need to spend 100 hours collecting new data.
    CFO Bryan Richards said the contract was necessary because the data hadn’t been entered into the district’s transportation system in a way that would make it easy to interpret. It was unclear why he couldn’t just use the maps and data Schreder has already produced.
    However, new 2010 Census data has been released since Schreder did its School Closure analysis. Maybe the consultants will spend time evaluating that.

  • Doctor J

    Did Gary leave the room as required by law ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    No, although I’m not sure that’s required by law, since doesn’t have a financial interest in Jack Schreder and Associates, as far as I know.
    Also, it’s unclear if the money the district paid for the solar class Eberhart took was counted in his stipend. It doesn’t appear to be.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Regarding the Salem trip, administrators will likely stay at the Grand Hotel in Salem at the discounted rate of $129 per night: http://www.solution-tree.com/Public/InstituteDetail.aspx?node=&parent=&ProductID=CFF284.
    Solution Tree also offers free webinars on RtI.

  • g

    Schreders, young and old, have built their companies from the boon years-deep well of school funds, and/or schools hurting for quick funds that they just happen to have available.

    Ms. Hansen is correct. Even what they made look all big and official for school closure studies was pretty much all just a compilation of information that was available on the web and by a half dozen phone calls. They could have also put all that information onto about 10 pages had they not padded it with duplicate info to make it appear to be worth what we paid for it.

    I have been confused as to why some of their numbers did not match what the District has published—somebody is wrong, but who?

  • Long-time Board Watcher

    Susan Townsend, Your support for teachers is admirable, but I guess you missed the news that MDUSD administrators have been taking furlough days (7 or 8/year, as I recall) both this year and last. As any teacher will tell you, a furlough day is a salary cut, so administrators’ salaries have been reduced for two years. In addition, lots of administrative positions have been eliminated, both at the district level and at school sites. The budget cuts have also affected classified employees. They saw their work year and their work day both shortened over the past two years, cutting their salary, and now they will be taking furlough days as well. Everyone has felt the blows of the budget ax.

    School districts in which employees, including teachers, are not taking furlough days are becoming the exception. The tornado that is the years-long state financial crisis has now touched down in our classrooms, particularly in school districts that do not have a parcel tax to offset some of the revenue shortfall.

    It is time to stop ranting on blogs about where the next cuts should come from and start highlighting the areas where students, teachers, administrators, and classified employees are working hard–and succeeding–even as their jobs become more difficult. We need a revenue source independent of state and federal formulas: a parcel tax. And we’ll get that only by convincing district voters that MDUSD is worth their support.

    You may not like the Superintendent or some senior administrators or Board members, but as the recent lightweight Grand Jury investigation shows, their apparent ethical lapses brought little more than a finger-shaking from that panel.

    They are the district’s leaders for at least two more years. But they don’t need to be the face of MDUSD. There are many others worth that honor, such as the Mt. Diablo High students and teachers who went to school on last Friday’s furlough day; the music teachers and coaches and librarians whose programs are underfunded; the Holbrook and Glenbrook students, staff, and parents who made us see the remarkable work being done in those schools; the . . . (fill in the blank with your own story; there are many).

    Rather than be a loose collection of critics, the MDUSD community needs to work together to repair the damages done over the past several years. Don’t let anger about the district leadership be a distraction.

  • Theresa Harrington

    A lot of their numbers didn’t match up because they used different data, so the comparisons weren’t always apples to apples.
    For example, sometimes they used 2009 enrollment and sometimes they used 2010-11 actual enrollment.
    Also, the school closure criteria rubric was never fully explained.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Despite the “State of Emergency” in California education funding and the nonessential travel ban, Torlakson adviser Craig Cheslog has flown to Chicago to learn about arts education. Torlakson, on the other hand, is marking the “California Day of the Teacher” in the state capitol.

  • Doctor J

    @#16 Is there anything new about the MDUSD shell game ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    When the data constantly fluctuates, it’s harder to make decisions based on it.
    Last night, Trustee Cheryl Hansen complained about fluctuating special education budget projections, which have resulted in several increased allocations, such as the expenditure for educational interpreters for the deaf. She asked staff to strive to make more accurate projections for next year, which can remain constant throughout the year.

  • Congress Shall Make No Law

    While this thread is on mandatory and unpaid days OFF, I am very curious about mandatory unpaid days “ON” for some public school employees.

    Why are some schools requiring certain school personnel to be at baccalaureates this graduation season? Don’t we have separation of church and state? How can an employee be required by their government employer to attend an event at a church on a Sunday?

    Why are the schools even involved in this type of event — it should be completely private and run by interested students and their parents, not by the school.

    I no longer work in MDUSD. If I did, I would be exercising my First Amendment rights to petition MDUSD to stop this abuse of its employees and to stop this disregard for employees’ (and students’)freedom of religion.