Friday, June 4, 2010

Cutting classes -- schools to let out early

With an additional 9 percent cut levied across the state just last month after school districts made substantial cuts, many local districts won't wait to start cutting again.

In Sisters, the school year will end two days earlier, with the elementary and middle schools getting out Tuesday, June 8, instead of Thursday and the high school going until a half-day on Wednesday.

District staff voted to cut two student-contact days because teachers had already surrendered 3.5 non-student contact days this year to help balance the budget. Unfortunately, everyone has to share the burdens of the Great Recession, including students. Teachers already agreed to forego any pay raises next school year.

These two days won't solve Sisters budget problems next year, because they won't make up the additional $534,000 in cuts that have to be made.

Bend-La Pine will cut two days and Redmond three days. They'll have to whittle more days next year as well.

There are some in the community who believe schoolchildren should be shielded from the effects of the Great Recession. To their credit, the school districts have managed to protect almost all their programs, curricular and extra-curricular, this school year. Teachers and support staff have borne the brunt of the cuts because their salaries make up 80 percent of a school budget.

Of course, there is a downside to all of this. Students have less time in school, teachers and staff make less money and less money flows back into the community as a result. It's really a death-spiral and quite the opposite of a win-win situation.

More so than any district in the region, and perhaps the state, the Sisters community rallies around its three schools. They're a source of community pride. Sisters is the only city in this half of the state to twice approve local option levies to maintain as many programs as possible while keeping class sizes manageable.

When Gov. Ted Kulongoski ordered across-the-board 9 percent reduction last month, it meant schools statewide suddenly had $234 million less to work with.

Republican lawmakers, the ones who usually demand across-the-board cuts, whined that the legislature should decide cuts in a special session so that schoolchildren and the most vulnerable could be shielded somewhat. What a laugher. Republicans are always the ones that want to make cuts in schools and social services. Give them a special session and they'll further gut schools and social services.

Local school budgets, followed by cuts:

Bend-La Pine: $120 million, $6.5 million
Redmond: $55 million, $2.6 million
Sisters: $12 million, $1.2 million

Recently, the Chalkboard Project, funded by prominent Oregon philanthropies that also dislike unions, released a report showing how $500,000 could be saved in Central Oregon through efficiencies. That's nice, but with local school budgets totaling about $200 million, $500,000, as much as that is, isn't going to bring many school days back, if any.

Times are tough.

Thank god we have any empty prison up in Madras. At the rate we're diminishing education statewide, our students will fill that slammer in a few years.

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