Last week we examined some of the strategies states are employing to pare down their education budgets in the face of the economic downturn. School districts are also affected by the simultaneous stress placed on federal, state and local education budgets. And they are considering some serious and often creative ways of rethinking their budgets for the current school year.
In California, where Governor Schwarzenegger recently announced a $2 billion cut to the education budget, many large districts are considering cutting the 180 day school year down to 160 days. Such districts include Vallejo and Benicia, which face $4.9 million and $1.2 million in cuts, respectively. But simply ending the school year early comes with complications. Districts have yet to decide whether to cut teacher salaries in tandem with the shortened school year. Negotiating such a change would likely cause problems with teachers unions and complications with accounting systems.
In Palm Beach County, FL school district leaders have decided to forgo raises for the coming year and have asked principals and teachers to do the same. The district recently cut $80 million from its budget and is likely to cut another $80 million next year.
Pasco County School District, also in Florida, has proposed cutting $8.6 million from its budget from funds reserved for band and chorus uniforms, Junior Varsity sports teams, and spring football camp. It also plans to freeze hiring procedures on vacant positions, saving $3.6 million.
Tucson Unified School District in Arizona recently eliminated a new high school graduation requirement as a result of the budget crunch. In response to Arizona State University admissions requirements, the district instituted a two unit foreign language requirement for all students beginning for freshmen in 2008. However, the cost and effort associated with hiring certified foreign language instructors and maintaining courses for all students outweighed the need to make fiscally responsibly choices today.
In Oregon, a series of districts have made serious changes to make ends meet. Reynolds School District cut 9 days from the school year, saving $3.6 million. Centennial School District froze spending on textbook replacements and purchases, and hiring for certain unfilled positions, accounting for 85 percent of its $812,000 shortfall.
Central Bucks School District, outside Philadelphia, PA, has frozen spending on curriculum materials, athletics, discretionary spending at individual schools, borrowing for next year, and hiring new teachers. Though the district hopes for a moderate increase in property tax rates to ease the pressure on the budget, such relief may not kick in for months.
In Tennessee, many students depend on after-school tutoring programs to pass course-specific graduation tests. But Hamilton County School District might be forced to shut down its $1.2 million tutoring program as a result of budget cuts. District officials are already predicting a steep drop in graduation rates without the extra tutoring.
The list of districts struggling to make ends meet goes on and on. And we could spend all day discussing them. But suffice it to say that districts across the country are responding to the economic crisis as aggressively as possible. While these decisions may be difficult and well-calculated, they are likely to come under continued scrutiny from students, parents, and other education stakeholders as class size, instruction time, and attempts to raise the quality of children's schooling are affected.