The infusion of funds from ARRA promises some relief for the strained California education budget, but the system – already coping with over $7 billion in mid-year budget cuts from 2008-9 – is struggling to cut costs, a struggle that has directly impacted classrooms and teachers. Members of the California Teacher Advisory Council (Cal TAC) have reported larger class sizes, cuts in salary, eliminated positions, and a reduction in services around the state.
“We lost almost a third of our teachers,” said Sue Pritchard, Washington Middle School, La Habra. “Class sizes are significantly up; I have at least one class with 41 students. It impacts our days in a lot of ways – more duty, less wiggle room in the schedules.” “Our class sizes are up to 31 students on average,” said Jeff Foote, Kermit McKenzie Jr. High. “A few are up to 45, but it’s manageable.”
“In addition to larger classes, we are also not getting enough basic supplies,” added Katrina Williams, Steinbeck Elementary School, Fresno. “Teachers are shopping the sales and spending more now than ever to supply their students with the basics. Moreover, all district committees have been disbanded – there is no more Math Articulation Team, for example. Leadership roles are pretty much gone for teachers.”
“The library in our school is actually closed,” said Suzanne Nakashima, Lincrest Elementary School, Yuba City. “Our librarian retired, and because of the staff cuts, she hasn’t been replaced.”
The shifting budget situation has also resulted in an ongoing series of mixed messages, as no one is sure how deep the cuts will go.
“During the last six months, I’ve been told that I would lose my job; then I was told that I would keep it, because of my National Board Certification; then told my position would be cut to 80 percent time,” said Juliana Jones, Longfellow Middle School, Berkeley Unified School District. “Ultimately they found enough money for me to keep my position, but the uncertainty caused me and my family a great deal of anxiety.”
Despite the significant challenges posed by the budget cuts, though, Cal TAC members, like many teachers around the state, are working to make the best of things.
“The budget cuts have actually been a double-edged sword for my district,” said Williams. “On the one hand, six of my colleagues lost their jobs, and our fifth grade classes have over 40 students. On the other, because most of the pull out and supplementary programs have been canceled, an hour and a half of time per day has been freed up. I can actually teach math daily and devote time to inquiry-based science lessons.”
“There is an excitement in the air as we work to meet challenges,” added Foote. “Maybe this year we’ll develop a metric for perseverance and creativity. We are coming to accept that real-life learning of ‘shared problem solving’ is good education.”