I hate to start the month of July with bleak news, but it can’t be helped. In the past week, I spotted two articles which are definitely a sign of the times. They help to emphasize the sad economic plight of our nation’s public schools.
The first article that caught my eye comes from the state of Wisconsin announcing the layoffs of 519 staff members in Milwaukee Public Schools. CNN stated, “The layoffs are effective Friday, the beginning of the third quarter, when cash-strapped state and local governments are forecast to shed up to 110,000 jobs, according to IHS Global Insight.” (IHS Global Insight offers “economic and financial analysis forecasting and market intelligence.”)
Class sizes will more than likely increase since the layoffs include 354 teachers, and students will undoubtedly be using old textbooks, according to Superintendent Gregory Thornton.
These drastic cuts are a result of Gov. Scott Walker’s two-year budget plan which was signed on Sunday. This plan cut spending to schools by approximately $200 less per student. With roughly 82,000 students attending Milwaukee Public Schools, this plan cut $182,000 from their district’s budget.
Ouch, right? The sad truth is that these kinds of cuts are occurring everywhere in our nation. Let’s look at Detroit where they face the same difficult dilemma but were able to find an alternative to laying off teachers.
Facing $230,000 in budget cuts, Detroit Public Schools have cut 853 jobs, and the employees who stay are being forced to take a 10% pay cut in order to operate under a $1.2 billion budget proposed by their state-appointed emergency financial manager.
Released on June 23, the draft of the budget also calls for $200 million to be cut from the $327 million budget deficit through the sale of long-term bonds and an additional $48 million in purchased and contracted service cuts.
However, according to Roy Roberts, the district’s financial manager, most of the 4,400 teaching positions will be spared. Instead, there will be cuts in school administrators, clerical and professional staff, counselors, teacher aides, and central office supervisors.
At a time when the district has already been experiencing declining enrollment, the threat of additional cuts could drive more parents away.
“This budget will require us to live within our means while supporting the educational plan that’s been put in place,” Roberts said in a news release. “We must elevate the schools in terms of academics, performance and providing a safe environment for children. We have to build a first-rate system of schools that parents choose to send their children to.”
One way they are trying to attract parents is by maintaining or reducing class sizes, which is incredible when most schools are increasing class size. The plan is to expand pre-kindergarten programs thus keeping class sizes to 18 students, to keep class sizes from kindergarten to third grade the same at around 25 students, and to decrease class sizes at fourth and fifth grades from 33 to 30 and from sixth to twelfth from 38 to 35.
Anthony Adams, the district’s school board president, voiced concern as he reminded the district that past attempts to balance the budget and get rid of the deficit have not been successful.
“For the last two years it’s been the same story,” Adams said. “They all sound good. The reductions in staffing should be good, especially if he is saving teachers. The proof is in the implementation.”
Two drastic plans to reduce budget deficits. One will reduce teachers which will increase class sizes. The other keeps teachers while maintaining or lowering class sizes, but those teachers are working for far less. Both include reduction of other staff members, but Detroit primarily focuses on only those kinds of cuts thus maintaining the instructional level but at the cost of clerical, support, and administrative services.
There is no perfect solution to the mess all public school districts are facing. As Anthony Adams said, “The proof is in the implementation.”
School districts everywhere will have to ride out the storm and do the best they can with whatever personnel, services, and materials they have left after the slashing is done.