This past Friday families of students in Long Beach Unified (LBUSD) got news that the District would not be implementing furlough days this school year. The Teachers Assn. of Long Beach (TALB) had rejected this method of reducing costs, and now LBUSD must find other ways of reducing expenses. The blurb on their website http://tinyurl.com/3qlcra4 states that “LBUSD will seek longer-term solutions to reduce expenditures without cutting the number of instructional days.”
Last year LBUSD schools, serving a student population of more than 80,000, shortened the school year by five days as a means of saving money in the short term. Many other publicly funded organizations across the state did the same, including state government and public universities. As we began this school year parents, administrators, and probably even many teachers, fully expected to have similar cost-cutting measures put in place.
But as of the first day of school on September 7, 2011, no such shortening of the school year was indicated on the district calendar. When administrators were asked if furlough days would again be implemented, they responded that principals and other administrative staff had already approved seven days. So it was a waiting game to see what TALB would approve. October 1 was given as the deadline.
The fact that this basic element of school year logistics had not been resolved before the school year began seems indicative of an organization in crisis. With the state continuing in financial chaos, even with something of an improvement in state revenues, continued furlough days almost seemed like the lesser of all evils. Other districts were even hiring back some of the teachers they had laid off last spring. LBUSD prides itself on never laying off teachers unless absolutely necessary, and waiting until the last minute to make those decisions. They have been mostly true to their word, and no teachers at our local elementary school were rehired.
Programs have been cut to the bone, instrumental music at the elementary level has been eliminated along with librarians and all but a few hours of nursing staff as well. Classrooms are more crowded in elementary, and probably would have been in middle school too if they weren’t already packed to the gills.
This set of dire circumstances begs the question: What is there left to cut? The longer-term solutions seem frightening in the abstract. It is understandable that teachers do not want to take more enforced pay cuts, which is what furlough days are essentially, but the alternatives don’t seem much better. And with new laws drastically curtailing the ability of schools to request—not require---payment or contribution for some programs like instrumental music or field trips, it seems like we are turning our public schools into centers of deprivation rather than the place of erudite learning and enlightenment that they ideally should be.
Strangely there has been little or no discussion of this furlough day fiasco--officially that is. At the coffee shop and outside the school gate, there has been plenty of talk about this. Some ask what the district’s plan is and, at this point, there doesn’t seem to be one. Parents might have some good input on the topic, (you never know). The question of the day is why it took TALB and LBUSD so long to decide to do nothing.
While students certainly benefit from having a full school year calendared, the uncertainty of the calendar caused confusion among parents and the alternative cuts should probably cause a lot of concern. We will just have to wait and see. In the meantime, we are all making do with conditions that are not the best and could be worse. But is that really the way we want to support and train the future citizens of the world, the future workers of business and industry, the future makers of legislation and policy?