Public Comment

Commentary: How to Help Stem the Tide of Public Education Cuts

By John Selawsky
Friday March 21, 2008

I write from a sense of immediacy, I write from a sense of continued need, and I write from a sense of both frustration and anger. Once again, after a 30-year history of underfunding of our public schools in the state of California, a governor is proposing massive cuts and reductions in the state’s contribution to local public schools. Since between 70 and 80 percent of any local school district’s funding comes directly from Sacramento, this potential loss is of major concern to the school and wider community. In a time of escalating utility costs, fuel, salaries, books, materials and supplies, the Governor has proposed a 0 perent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2008-09, as well as massive cuts in school funding. For a local perspective on the real price districts will pay, we are estimating that Berkeley Unified School District will lose between $3.7 and $4.5 million in the next school year! These potential cuts will impact every school and every program in Berkeley Unified. It is important for the public to know that there are no good nor easy choices for the school board to make with possible reductions in revenue that are this deep. 

There are additional costs to Berkeley and other school districts in California that will result from these proposed cuts. At a time when even state officials regularly bemoan the state’s lack of qualified teachers, particularly in the math and sciences areas, almost every school district in California will be noticing the most recently hired teachers of possible lay-offs or reductions in assignment: we will unfortunately be sending the message to our teachers that they are expendable, unwanted, and undervalued. Furthermore, some of our classified staff (custodians, maintenance, tradespeople, food service workers, bus drivers) will have reductions in hours and/or elimination of positions. Though many of our classified staff are not paid as well as our teachers, they do receive health benefits, sick and vacation time, pension fund payments, and other benefits, all of which are increasingly less available for comparable positions in the private sector. Many of our administrators will receive pink slips as well. Because cuts and reductions will be so dramatic state-wide, positions for these people will be scarce anywhere next year. This compounds our state’s economic woes, leaves individuals and families with limited options, and seriously impacts the work of local school districts. 

There are steps all of us can take to help our schools during this exceedingly difficult period: 

1) Call, write, e-mail your state representatives and the governor’s office, telling them to maintain the minimum funding that is guaranteed under voter-approved Proposition 98. 

2) Involve your neighborhood association, your union, your co-workers, any groups or associations you are a member of, and have the organization send a letter or fax to Sacramento in support of our schools. 

3) Draft a letter for your next PTA/PTSA meeting to send to Sacramento. 

4) Participate in the caravans that will continue to travel to Sacramento to talk with legislators and the governor’s office about the critical need to maintain public school funding. (One is definitely planned for the first week in May, and there will be other opportunities before then.) 

Every school district in the state of California will be severely impacted by the proposals coming out of Sacramento at this time. Districts will be looking at reducing/eliminating athletics, cutting programs, reducing staff, and increasing class-sizes to off-set the reductions in state funding (Berkeley is committed in maintaining our class-size averages, at this point). Please help us get the message to Sacramento loud and clear: no reduction in Proposition 98 funding for our public schools. 


John Selawsky is president of the Berkeley School Board.