MEASURE E: Failure means shorter school year, fewer schools
In the wake of Measure E’s defeat at the polls last week, the Board of Education is moving forward with plans to increase class sizes and shorten the school year for 2010-2011 – and beginning the process of shuttering schools after this school year is over.
At a special meeting to be held Tuesday night at City Hall, the board is expected to approve a budget with more than $7 million in cuts, instead of the $2.5 million in cuts trustees would have maintained even if Measure E had passed. As part of the package of cuts for this year, district staff is asking the board to end the coming school year a week earlier than originally planned.
The budget cuts will also mean fewer counselors for middle and high school students, fewer adult school courses for seniors and other adult learners and less money for textbooks, special education services, school maintenance and teacher training.
“This is not what we want to do to our children. This is what the state has forced us to do to keep our budget sustainable,” Superintendent Kirsten Vital said.
School closures would begin in 2011-2012 under the budget forecasts to be presented Tuesday, and class sizes in kindergarten through third grade would grow to 32 students per teacher, up from 25 students per teacher for the coming school year. The district laid off 96 permanent teachers and more than 40 teachers on temporary contracts at the end of this school year, generating millions more in savings.
Some of the district’s elementary school art, music and physical education teachers could also receive pink slips before the 2011-2012 school year in order to save the district money.
The state has cut $7 million in funding for basic educational expenses over the past two years and has made additional cuts in funding for “categorical” programs like adult education, art and music, teacher training and safety, and additional cuts are expected. State dollars account for more than three-quarters of the district’s funding.
Even after making millions of dollars in budget cuts, officials at Alameda Unified anticipate they’ll need to plow into their savings to cover $4.8 million in expenses next year. But the district won’t have that money for 2011-2012. And its existing parcel taxes, which generate $7 million a year, will sunset at the end of that school year.
“Scenario B” in the district’s master plan for 2010-2015 – the “no parcel tax” scenario – calls on the district to shutter a middle school, a high school and three elementary schools in order to balance the budget. Specific schools slated for closure have not yet been named.
The master plan’s no-tax scenario also envisions shifting grade configurations so that the district’s elementary schools would house kindergarten through sixth grade, middle schools would hold grades seven through nine and high schools would teach students in grades 10 through 12.
The district’s budget plan calls for shuttering one middle school and one high school in 2011-2012 and up to four elementary schools the year after that – closures proponents of Measure E had sought to avoid.
District staff is recommending a “phased approach” that would close “one or more” secondary schools and “one or more” elementary schools in 2011, with additional elementary school closures in 2012. If the board decides to move forward, Vital will present a phased closure plan in September.
Vital said fuller classrooms and fewer schools will have major implications for students, who will get less attention and even less challenging assignments, and perhaps even for the Island as a whole. But she thinks there may still be opportunities to raise at least some of the money the district needs, either through another parcel tax vote or through fundraising efforts.
More than 65 percent of the voters who cast ballots on Measure E were in favor of the tax, which would have more than doubled what homeowners now pay to support Alameda’s schools each year (the tax needed the approval of two-thirds of voters to pass).
Meanwhile, proponents have said on local blogs, news sites and chat groups that they would be willing to send the money they would have paid had Measure E passed to the school district. And Alameda Education Foundation president Bill Sonneman, in a statement issued Friday, said the foundation’s role could expand beyond the enrichment and teacher-supply programs it now provides.
“Quality education remains our focus, but with the failure of Measure E and devastating cuts looming, we will need to take a much greater role in ensuring that quality education remains an Alameda tradition,” Sonneman was quoted as saying. “We look forward to working more and more with the community to ensure that Alameda schools remain strong and that our children receive the kind of education they deserve.”