The Elk Grove Unified School District took its case to the community Thursday night, arguing that public education in California is at a crossroads and encouraging district parents to help protect schools from further budget cuts.
District Superintendent Steven M. Ladd hosted the hour-long session, the first of four the district will hold this month. He offered charts that showed funding declines in recent years and cuts the district has made in response. Other speakers on the program encouraged parents to let state officials know how they feel.
Not everyone in attendance supported the message and approach. Of four audience members who spoke, two criticized the presentation as political, drawing some applause from the audience of about 100. The session was held at the Sheldon High School Performing Arts Center.
Ladd explained how the district's near-future is related to Gov. Brown's proposed budget and a possible special election in June to vote on the extension of existing taxes for Californians.
He said the district spends $5,192 per child per year. If the tax extension measure is rejected by voters, this number will have to be cut by $350 to $1,300 per student, Ladd said. If the measure is passed, the decline will be about $19, he said.
Ladd said California spending for education ranks at or near the bottom of the 50 states in categories like students per teacher, students per counselor, students per librarian and students per administrator.
Over the last three years, in response to declining state funding, Ladd said Elk Grove schools have cut more than $100 million, including $20 million in concessions by employees. The district's budget totals about $620 million. It has nearly 62,000 students.
Among the other speakers was Tom Gardner, president of the Elk Grove Education Association, which represents 3,000 teachers and other education personnel. He said the district is "in the midst of a crisis and on the brink of a catastrophe." Approval of the tax extension is "absolutely essential," he said.
He spoke of larger class sizes, teacher furlough days and other changes and asked, "Do California voters want to continue public education, or do they want to completely dismantle it? … The legislators could be handing you the decision. … I ask what choice do you make?"
Gardner's comments were applauded, but so were counter-remarks from the audience. Two speakers criticized the teachers' union for using seniority to address cutbacks, allowing young, bright teachers to lose their jobs.
One speaker, a woman who said she has three children, said she was "disappointed in this little political arena this evening." She said she disagrees that teachers' unions put students first and asked the district to stand up to unions. "Show us that you care about our students by putting the money and resources to their education," she said.
Ladd directed the audience to two web sites that have further information about the state's budget situation as it impacts education -- egusd.net, the district's site, and educateourstate.org.
See the presentation (in PDF format) by downloading the attachment file below.
Here are the remaining community sessions:
March 22, 7-8 p.m.
Valley High School
6300 Ehrhardt Ave.
March 24, 7-8 p.m.
James Rutter Middle School
7350 Palmer House Drive
March 31, 7-8 p.m.
Franklin High School
6400 Whitelock Parkway
, Elk Grove