Back to school!
Today marks the first day of school for Alameda’s public schoolkids, and for many families, it could be a bittersweet milestone. Deep state funding cuts and continuing budget uncertainty – and the failure of the Measure E parcel tax – mean larger classes and split grade-level classes for many elementary school students, fewer counselors for middle and high school students, fewer courses at the adult school – and a shorter school year for everybody.
School district officials will be putting together a new parcel tax request for voters to consider in the spring – and also plans to shutter one or more each of the district’s elementary and secondary schools. And they will be putting together fresh packages of budget cuts for next year and the following one, when the district’s existing parcel taxes lapse.
The news isn’t all grim. The district has made progress on a host of technology upgrades and school maintenance and repair projects. And district officials told the Board of Education on August 24 that they had brought back 73 of the nearly 100 teachers they laid off in May, and more have been contacted since. And California is in line for $1.2 billion from the federal government to save teachers’ jobs, some of which could come our way.
But that money may not come soon, or at all, some fear: School districts may not see a dime until state legislators and the governor pass a budget, and some fear the money could end up being used in place of cash the state would have laid out for schools.
Still, the district’s students are performing well in the face of all the financial chaos. Recently released California Standards Test scores for 2010 showed gains of 3.3 percent in English Language Arts scores over the previous year, Superintendent Kirsten Vital announced last week, with history scores up 3.4 percent, math scores up 4 percent and science scores up 5 percent (some schools also made some progress in closing the disparity in its math scores among the district’s racial and ethnic groups, though the overall gap still persists). And she said that 90 percent of Alameda’s 10th grade students passed the California High School Exit Exam last year, up from 84 percent in 2007-2008.
“We keep making gains in Alameda, even in light of having to do a lot more with a lot less,” Vital told the board.