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The good news is, there’s a state-of-the-art elementary school that will open this fall to serve Rancho Murieta’s children. But the long-awaited Cosumnes River Elementary School arrives during a state funding crisis that has the Elk Grove Unified School District looking for ways to cut $60.5 million from its 2010-2011 budget. Class sizes are being increased as staffing for classrooms and libraries is being cut and programs are being dropped. School officials fear the situation could get worse when a revised version of the state budget is released this month.

“That’s what everyone’s waiting for right now,” Elizabeth Graswich, director of communications for the school district, said Tuesday.

The reduction in education funding in the governor’s January budget meant the school district had to send out 760 preliminary layoff notices to meet a March deadline mandated by law. The school district was able to rescind 295 of the notices in April through attrition, an early retirement program and other cost-saving measures. An agreement between the school district and the Elk Grove Education Association for two furlough days this school year resulted in $2.5 million in savings and restored 29 counseling positions. That’s less than half the number now employed for the district’s 62,000 students, Graswich said.

The school district is required to send out a second layoff notice by May 15, but it’s not necessarily the final notice.  “In past years we’ve continued to rescind notices all the way through to the beginning of the following school year,” Graswich said. “... There are many teachers in our district that have received pink slips now three years in a row. ... These young teachers, they’re passionate, they’re good, they’re excited to be in the classroom and yet they also have mortgages, bills and everything else. ... This is happening up and down the state. It’ll be interesting to see the long term impact it has on the teaching profession.”

Budget cuts over the past three years total $100 million, she said. The district’s current operating budget is $478 million and 88 percent is spent on employee compensation, according to a financial update the school district presented in February.  

“After you cut, cut, cut, there’s not a lot left to cut this year, and so it’s really a difficult year and it’s the biggest of all the years we’ve had to cut,” Graswich said.

Elk Grove used reserves the first year to cushion the budget blow after the state cut funding. The next year, there were federal dollars available.

This year, Elk Grove Unified will be making changes that it had managed to avoid those years.  Kindergarten through third grade class sizes will increase from 20 students to 28. Other school districts had a higher student-to-teacher ratio this school year and are looking at classes of 30-plus going forward, Graswich said. 

Another cost-cutting measure involves shifting 12 elementary schools with multi-track, year-round schedules to traditional or modified traditional scheduling for a savings of $300,000 per school. Cosumnes River Elementary is already on a traditional schedule.

A voluntary contribution for participation in athletic programs is in place, along with a reduction in freshman sports. “There’s a lot of community fundraising going on,” Graswich said.

Library technicians and librarians face “fairly large” potential layoffs.

But not all the changes involve subtracting something from the school experience. Elk Grove Unified School District is beginning the enrollment process for a new program, a “virtual academy” that offers online classes from kindergarten through grade 12. Students will interact with teachers online and also have the option of face-to-face time, and tests will take place in a proctored, classroom setting.

The district hopes to bring students that have gone to other online programs and to home schooling back into the district, which would generate revenue for the district. “It’s another option for students that are looking for a different way of getting their education,” Graswich said. “We’re trying to reach out to them.”

The school district is required by law to submit a three-year balanced budget by June 30. Since the state budget is unlikely to be passed  by then, “It could be a long time until we know exactly how much money we’re going to have,” Graswich said.

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Group calls meeting to address school concerns

A press release from the group Support California Kids:

SupportCAKids, a non-profit coalition of parents and concerned citizens, is hosting a community meeting in the Monterey Trail High School Multi-Purpose Room on Thursday, May 6 at 6:30 PM. Event organizers are expecting a large crowd of interested families and community members from throughout the region who will hear comments on the status of education funding from Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, Elk Grove Mayor Sophia Scherman and City Council members Pat Hume and Gary Davis, and Elk Grove Unified School Board President Jeanette Amavisca.

In recent months, SupportCAKids has launched an aggressive grassroots effort to educate the public about the current crisis in education funding and to encourage active participation in the political process. "We use the SupportCAKids.com website to help citizens quickly identify their elected representatives, then give them the tools to communicate on behalf of their children and the community," explains founder Marie Correa.  "We realized that special interest groups are always in the Capitol, advocating for their agendas. But they cannot represent the needs of children like parents can. Our non-profit foundation empowers parents and families to be their own advocates."

Nicole Smith's picture
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My family moved here about 2

My family moved here about 2 and a half years ago from Idaho and we are talking about moving back already because of the states politics. I just cant believe this state is worried more about supporting Illegals than educating the children!

Judy Musgrove's picture
Joined: 10/01/2007
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I have lived in this state for years - back in the 80's there was this same crisis - school closures, lack of funding etc. I lived in the Richmond Unified School District and was on a committee that had to oversee the decision as to which school to close and in bringing in charter school concepts.   Isn't it interesting that today 2010 - we are having the very same issues.

Why in the world do we have this same issue time and time again?  When are the powers that be realize that the educational system is broken and we will continue to reap this tragic state of affairs for our children because Nothing is being changed.  It is like a broken record that keeps on playing and playing.

Why would someone want to be a teacher today?  At least with the public school system?  Our children should be priority number 1 and they never are.  Always, Always, educational budgets get cut.  Always, Always, Mental Health gets cut.  Always, Always, Fire, Police and other public personnel are cut. 

Do you realize that anything that has to do with the well-being of the populace gets cut in times of crisis?  Now, don't get me wrong, I do realize that we are in a state of financial crisis - but the people that are pulling the strings are not interested in the well being of the populace in this state.  Why not place blame on a dysfunctional system?

Education is not at the top of this state's list.  Doesn't even matter what level of education we are talking about.  And yes, the taxes and costs continue to rise - while I am now a grand parent, and do not hesitate at all in giving more than my fair share for the youth, the money is not being spent in the places it needs to be.

We still have youth that can't read.  We still have youth that drop out of school.  We still have juvenile delinquents and we still have the same issues.  In a family, if an issue arises, you tend to take care of it.  You tend to sit back and figure out whether a discipline needs to be administered or if in fact the issue needs a revision so that it won't happen again.

Why in the world is it so darn hard for people to brainstorm, allow the teachers to teach, put in disciplinary measures that work, come up with creative alternatives and incentives to keep the youth in the school system?  Why are we cutting sports, music, libraries, etc.  Get the picture?  Hey, continue taking the fun out of education and you will get more drop outs!  Then the powers at be will sit back and wonder what went wrong!  How could this be happening? 

What I do know is this.  If I was raising my children now, they would not be in the public school system.  I would either home school, or private school them or a bit of both - because I want them to be educated, I want them to move forward in the world with good values, and a sense of responsibility and goodness. 

I raised (4) children and numerous foster children.  I have dealt with charter schools, public schools, special needs and private schools. 

I do not mean to imply at all that children of today don't meet those standards above.  I work with the youth and I am always impressed by their creativity, knowledge, curiousity, and goodness.  There are a few bad apples, but that is not the majority.  Kids need structure, encouragement, incentive and a positive way to learn, to grow and to mature.

When in the world are the people that make the decisions going to be open enough to just flat change the entire structure of the educational process?  When are we as the adults of this state and nation going to step up to the plate and require that all children, regardless of home situation, or economic status get the same quality of education and experiences no matter what?

I do not see this happening until the adults ban together, young and old alike and tell the leaders of their state that this is not working and it has to change - there should be pilot programs out there, there should be ad hoc committees that take a problem area and come up with a creative way to resolve and change the issue.  Incorporating small and large businesses within the school educational system would be a plus. 

Unfortunately, people are too busy blaming someone.  Like who cares???  If you want to place blame it falls on all of our shoulders.  Now, we should just move past that and venture in to the area of how we can fix things and make it better.

I can hear it now, some people get really angry - at a difference of opinion.  And all I can say is why?  we are allowed our differences, but we should be able to sit back and analyze things (once everything has been laid out on the table) and then given the chance to show the youth how you can come together, people of different experiences and skills, and differing opinions, and actually work at putting together a plan of action that can be put into place.

At the same time, these same people need to join together and realize that if an idea or concept isn't working, (we need to evaluate what we are doing) then we are big enough to change it.  We don't need to place blame on anyone - we need to come together as a unit and provide idea's and solutions to the issues.

This is not meant to offend anyone, teachers, parents, staff etc.  The people that I know are dedicated workers, and they really do care about our youth.  But they are just stopped from moving forward.  What a darn shame it all is. 

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