LANCASTER – Educators, administrators and community professionals gathered Tuesday night at Eastside High School in the name of the future. The Antelope Valley School Boards Association hosted its first Community Education Summit to discuss the tremendous budget cuts and general shortfalls in the California education system, while in the same token celebrating the gains.
California School Boards Association executive director, Vernon Billy, addressed the crowd of concerned parents and local government officials, explaining that despite the encouraging growth with improved test scores across the region, the state is guilty of negligence.
On May 20, 2010, the CSBA and other education organizations filed a lawsuit against the state. Robles-Wong v. California demands that the state’s education system be declared unconstitutional and the state be required to establish a viable school finance system.
However, the Superior Court ruled in favor of the state. But Billy and his colleagues are not tired yet. They are seeking an appeal.
“It’s a little bit like keeping your car running,” said Howard Sundberg, Lancaster Elementary School District superintendent. “If you don’t change your oil, it’ll keep running for a little while, but it’ll eventually break down.”
Educators said the state continues to take from the schools, forcing districts to revamp their structure, layoff teachers and other staff members, and ultimately take resources away from students. With growing class sizes and diminishing budgets, the educators said something has to give way.
Westside School District superintendent and evening panelist, Regina Rossall, spoke passionately about the education crisis, saying that children have been put on the back burner for the state.
“We have become the bank for the state. The state is broke and has bills to pay,” she said bluntly, speaking about the current deferment system in place. “Kids have to be moved to the top of the agenda.”
California is borrowing money from schools, promising to pay back but a fraction each year. However, schools are coming up short, compelling them to borrow from private lenders to make ends meet.
Transportation is also a significant challenge for districts state-wide, but particularly for the Antelope Valley where many residents live on the outskirts of the desert.
Steve Doyle, superintendent at Keppel Elementary School District said potential cuts on transportation could be hazardous for schools and students.
“Currently [our transportation is] funded on the state level,” he said. “To cut funding by 50 percent is catastrophic. There are many rural areas without sidewalks… and many students won’t get to school.”
Many low-income parents depend heavily on school transportation to get their children to and from school. Otherwise their children would never make it, the panelists argued.
They also commented that to reduce funding meant putting districts at risk of breaking the law to provide transportation to special education students who require it as part of their Individualized Learning Programs (IEP).
According to the National Center of Children in Poverty, 43 percent of children live in low-income families and 50 percent of them live in rural areas.
With the state’s cuts, all areas of education are suffering including the health of the children. Panelist Maria Altamirano, with the Nursing Association, explained that funding for immunization and medical services for children has been cut by 75 percent, essentially lowering the quality of education for the general population. She also emphasized that many low-income families depend on public services for their children’s primary health care.
“Children are going to school with limited resources,” she said. “Schools are the main providers for many of these children.”
Districts are beginning to look to the private sector to stay afloat and finance special programs.
The Palmdale School District established a 501c3 in order to raise money for the district.
Robert “Bo” Bynum, PSD board member explained that all hope is not lost. He is in the middle of developing an outreach program in which the community is more tied to the schools.
“The community needs to understand what education is going through,” he said. “One thing I’m doing is developing community centers at the schools. People within certain neighborhoods will have access to use classrooms for English language learners, arts and crafts for kids or gymnasiums for sports.”
He says if the program is approved, it will likely inspire residents to have a more vested interest in the children.
Throughout the evening, panelists highlighted that residents and voters without children are oblivious to the hardship schools are going through. A major theme of the night was that the children in local schools are the employees, leaders and future residents of the area.
Listening in the audience were local leaders, Sen. Sharon Runner (Calif.-R) and Assemblyman Steve Knight (Calif. R).
The panel discussion was moderated by Bill Warford.
Other guest panelists included Clyde Merrick (CSEA), Barbra Thomas (Special Education Local Planning Agency), Jackie Fisher (A.V. College), Diane Parkins (Hughes Elizabeth Lakes SD), David Vierra (AV High School District), Gene Smith (CTA), and Chad Gray (ACSA).