Photo: Tom Barrett/ Unsplash

Los Angeles Unified and five other urban California school districts collectively enrolling about 1 million students warned Monday that “unrealistic” funding cuts proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in his revised budget would force them to delay reopening of schools this fall.

“Reopening our school campuses will require more — not fewer — resources to ensure and sustain proper implementation of public health guidance and the safety of all of those involved. Cuts will mean that the reopening of schools will be delayed even after State guidance and clearance from public health officials is given,” superintendents of the districts wrote in a three-page letter, dated May 18, to legislative leaders.

The letter comes less than a week after Newsom released his May budget revision that would cut funding for school districts by about $7 billion. That proposal includes a cut of $6.5 billion in general funding through the Local Control Funding Formula, which directs additional funding to high-needs students — low-income, foster and homeless students and English learners. That 10% reduction would be the first cut in the formula since its passage seven years ago. Signing the letter were superintendents of the state’s three largest districts, Austin Beutner, L.A. Unified; Cindy Marten, San Diego Unified and Christopher Steinhauser, Long Beach Unified, as well as Vincent Matthews, San Francisco Unified; Kyla Johnson-Trammel, Oakland Unified; and Jorge Aguilar, Sacramento City Unified.

They sent the letter to Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and the chairs of legislative committee reviewing the education budgets.

The superintendents argued that the funding cuts, combined with the additional expenses to restart schools with measures to prevent spreading the coronavirus among students and staff, will be untenable without more state money and clear guidance they haven’t received. They cited protective equipment, cleaning supplies, additional counselors and nurses to take students’ temperature daily, more staff to handle students coming to school in shifts and efforts to address learning loss during school closures as among the potential costs.

“We cannot in good conscience risk the health and safety of our students and staff by returning to the classroom prematurely and without funding for the necessary precautions,” they wrote.

They suggested a half-dozen ways that the Legislature could provide financial relief not in the Newsom’s budget, including a utility surcharge to pay for computers and internet access for students and directing money from the state’s rainy day fund, called the Budget Stabilization Account, to K-12 schools. Newsom proposed tapping $7.2 billion from the fund in 2020-21 to fix the state’s projected deficit, but none of that would go to schools.

The superintendents called for precise guidance from the state on the actions needed to open schools.

“We cannot move forward with a plan without a price tag,” Marten said in an interview.

But both Marten and Steinhauser backtracked from the letter’s implied threat to postpone the start of school without more money. They said they will stick with their scheduled openings — Aug. 31 in San Diego and Sept. 1 in Long Beach, but a lack of funding will affect their plans.

“We have sent out the message we will open Sept. 1, but we don’t know what it will look like,” said Steinhauser, adding that each district in the state will make its own determination.

Los Angeles Unified has set Aug. 18 as the first day of school, but Beutner said earlier this month but not before “science and health authorities tell us it is safe and appropriate to do so.” Nothing has changed, a spokeswoman said in an email.

The superintendents also called for the Legislature to protect districts from liability in case students contract the coronavirus at school and to guarantee per-student funding for 2020-21, as Newsom assured districts for the current year.

Legislators agree

Several Democratic and Republican Assembly members signaled they’d favor adding funding for K-12 to the state budget during a subcommittee hearing of the Assembly Budget Committee on Monday. Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, said he’d support “pulling from other priorities” to raise K-12 funding beyond the minimum under Proposition 98, the formula that determines how much of the General Fund goes to community colleges and K-12 schools. Based on a plunge in estimated tax revenues, the Department of Finance is projecting $15 billion less in Prop. 98 funding next year.

Newsom is proposing to blunt the impact of the $6.5 billion funding cut next year by steering nearly $6 billion in one-time funding from the federal CARES Act and to delay a portion of payments to districts instead of cutting their budgets further. In an analysis released on Sunday, the Legislative Analyst’s Office said that the net effect would be flat funding, “with federal funds and payment deferrals offsetting the reduction in Proposition 98 funding.”

But Steinhauser said that the CARES money would have to be spent by Dec. 31 on measures to reduce learning loss or to reimburse districts for COVID-19 expenses. While useful, the funding would not address “deep and ongoing expenses” districts will face now and in coming years in the event the economy doesn’t immediately bounce back.

Marten said mitigating a 10% cut in the funding formula won’t be enough to cover a possible 20% increase in expenses next year. Bringing students back to the classroom under multiple scenarios will cost more, she said.

“We have to act soon or risk prolonging distance learning,” she said.

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  1. ERP 7 months ago7 months ago

    Thank you to these educators willing to fight for kids. Many parents cannot return to work unless their children are at school. Additionally, for parents unwilling to send their children back to school until a vaccine is developed, that means schools are expected to run multiple teaching methods in tandem with less money than prior to COVID19. Even flat funding is a decline in that environment. Guess what folks, online instruction platforms cost Money. … Read More

    Thank you to these educators willing to fight for kids. Many parents cannot return to work unless their children are at school. Additionally, for parents unwilling to send their children back to school until a vaccine is developed, that means schools are expected to run multiple teaching methods in tandem with less money than prior to COVID19.

    Even flat funding is a decline in that environment. Guess what folks, online instruction platforms cost Money. Cameras in classrooms cost Money. Expanding server and router capabilities, equipping teachers with computers costs Money. Training teachers in delivering effective online instruction costs Money.

    Enhanced disinfecting, split class schedules like AM and PM schedules, or extending the school year to practice social distancing and reduce class sizes costs Money. The comments on here reveal how uninformed many are to school operations.

    On top of that— everything schools do is legislated and/or bargained leaving administrators with little to no flexibility to operate. Thank you to these superintendents who are putting their careers on the line by speaking out. The public wants their proverbial “cake and to eat it too,” expecting schools to open back up but also offer online and distance learning too.

    Schools can rise to the occasion but need Money to do so, and DeVos should be leading the fight for public school funding but instead she’s busy diverting stimulus funds to independent charters and private schools.

    Replies

    • Dr. Bill Conrad 6 months ago6 months ago

      The Superintendents are doing what superintendents always do: Ask for more and more money. Putting their jobs on the line would be taking the radical step of transforming their educational operations that would jettison the ample bacon in their current budgets by refocusing on academic and civic education with a heavy dose of online teaching and learning combined with platooned classes. They might also consider redesigning their LCAPs to reflect the new realities of … Read More

      The Superintendents are doing what superintendents always do: Ask for more and more money.

      Putting their jobs on the line would be taking the radical step of transforming their educational operations that would jettison the ample bacon in their current budgets by refocusing on academic and civic education with a heavy dose of online teaching and learning combined with platooned classes.

      They might also consider redesigning their LCAPs to reflect the new realities of school world by enhancing online opportunities while reducing brick and mortar operations.

      Taking the courageous steps of detailed planning, budgeting, monitoring, and accountability in creative new ways would be the courageous and risky thing to do.

      Asking for more money?

      Same ole. Same ole!

  2. Mary Johnson 7 months ago7 months ago

    We have to balance out because Health Care and Unemployment are just as important as education. Teachers are getting paid a full salary and only working twice a week and little to no live instruction to our children. This is the only group that getting paid a full salary to work two days a week. That giving away taxpayers money. Students are more safer at home until a vaccination is found. Some schools have … Read More

    We have to balance out because Health Care and Unemployment are just as important as education. Teachers are getting paid a full salary and only working twice a week and little to no live instruction to our children. This is the only group that getting paid a full salary to work two days a week. That giving away taxpayers money.

    Students are more safer at home until a vaccination is found. Some schools have 3000 students and before the health crisis 40 students in one classroom. There no space on campus to have 12 to 15 students in a classroom, for social distance, then you need to distribute over 1 million masks daily, plus some to clean and wipes after every session.

    How will the school protect thousands of students in a school setting?

  3. Concerned Parent 7 months ago7 months ago

    How anyone can find these conditions acceptable is amazing to me. First they force millions of people from there jobs and then they try and justify cutting funding to schools. These people clearly have an agenda that is willing to hurt people to accomplish

  4. Kerry Pay 7 months ago7 months ago

    We should redesign the entire learning system because viruses always mutate. New solutions not returning to the old way are needed. I am still learning new tech at 69 and enjoying! Be part of the solution not the problem!

  5. Barbara D 7 months ago7 months ago

    My 2 children are afraid to go outside and even more terrified to return to school. I’m afraid to send them. Distance Learning is working well for them. Considering not sending them back.

  6. SD Parent 7 months ago7 months ago

    There is no denying that the proposed budget represents a devastating cut to education. Large school districts in particular carry minuscule reserves and high employee costs (over 90% for San Diego Unified) and so are not in a good position to weather this. If San Diego Unified is any example, they are also not good at thinking outside the box to find solutions. So it is important that the state take a leadership … Read More

    There is no denying that the proposed budget represents a devastating cut to education. Large school districts in particular carry minuscule reserves and high employee costs (over 90% for San Diego Unified) and so are not in a good position to weather this. If San Diego Unified is any example, they are also not good at thinking outside the box to find solutions.

    So it is important that the state take a leadership role in school districts’ response to the pandemic and issue mandates and recommendations – not act like the Federal Government has with states and give some weak guidelines and then force them to fend for themselves.

    For example, if the state wants to utilize deferrals, then the state should solicit the TRANs financing and shoulder the interest payments, not dump those onto those districts that are unlucky to rely on substantial revenue from the state. (Remember, those interest payments come out of the education of children.) The state can also help school districts partner with county health offices to determine how to best provide effective health practices and cleaning, any necessary PPE, and health monitoring of students and school site personnel. The state could make recommendations with respect to teachers and other school site personnel who cannot (or refuse to) work in classrooms due to age or health conditions.

    However, before making recommendations and plans the state and school districts need to listen to all stakeholders, including the most important: students and parents, whose voices have been completely lost during this pandemic, yet have never been more important. Under what conditions would students and parents feel comfortable children physically attending schools? What would work at the schools where their students are attending (because talk about physical distancing breaks down when faced with individual schools’ limited space)?

    What is the current distance learning model is working and what isn’t? What models for distance or blending learning will work (because talk of alternating days or morning/afternoon sessions breaks down with working parents)? Etc.

  7. Joe Kardol 7 months ago7 months ago

    We need to be all in to Distance Learning until there is no risk - until there is a vaccine. We do it for other illnesses, we need to do it here too. Yes, Distance Learning is far inferior to classroom teaching. But, with the right professional development for staff and families, with a proven and effective schooling online platform, and with technology support for families - we can do this. There are … Read More

    We need to be all in to Distance Learning until there is no risk – until there is a vaccine. We do it for other illnesses, we need to do it here too.

    Yes, Distance Learning is far inferior to classroom teaching. But, with the right professional development for staff and families, with a proven and effective schooling online platform, and with technology support for families – we can do this. There are many online platforms already in use -K.12 for one. Partner with these companies, use their resources, and get teaching to be the best possible online experience. We don’t have enough staff to cover all the classes, that teachers will miss if they are to stay home for “any” cold symptoms.

    If there is a second outbreak, then we will be forced home again. Make a choice to stay home, give the right tools, training, and support. The unions have been too aggressive against what is right for families. Many schools still don’t require “live online teaching.” Or only connect twice a week to kids. This is horrible. Kids and families need daily online enrichment by their teacher.

    Go all in and train your teachers to do it right!

    Replies

    • SD Parent 7 months ago7 months ago

      Ask parents if distance learning works for them. They must work from home (which is only an option for some jobs) or find someone to care for their children. Either way, they also must spend many hours actually teaching their children (because the 2-4 hours per week of Zoom instruction the teachers do is insufficient).

    • Jennifer Rinehart 7 months ago7 months ago

      What you’re forgetting is that many teachers have their own children at home to care for, too. Live sessions with teachers on a daily basis aren’t always feasible. I am a teacher and our school district transitioned to distance learning almost overnight. Teachers are working harder than ever to ensure their students are learning during this difficult time.

      • Mills 7 months ago7 months ago

        Sorry, Jennifer. The taxpayers aren’t paying you to take care of your own kids. If you have to take care of your kids and you can’t also meet your job requirements, you’ll have to quit and let another teacher who can fulfill the terms of her contract do the job.

  8. Dr. Bill Conrad 7 months ago7 months ago

    What’s a Superintendent to do? The COVID-19 virus is forcing many sectors within our society to rethink how they do business. Not so much in education world though. Rather than think about new and possibly less expensive ways to educate our children, the supes go back to the same hackneyed tropes of asking for more and more money. They also wanted autonomy in funding and governance but are now whining about needing more direction from the … Read More

    What’s a Superintendent to do?

    The COVID-19 virus is forcing many sectors within our society to rethink how they do business. Not so much in education world though. Rather than think about new and possibly less expensive ways to educate our children, the supes go back to the same hackneyed tropes of asking for more and more money.

    They also wanted autonomy in funding and governance but are now whining about needing more direction from the state.

    One idea that the supes might consider is returning to the core mission of schools which is to ensure the academic achievement of all students. This might mean having to jettison a lot of expensive fluff that surrounds the core mission including things like social-emotional learning, personalized learning, and blended learning and so on.

    The children and families expect that the schools will provide a quality academic and civic education for the children. Let’s refocus on this core mission. With only half of third graders being able to read last year, taking a more focused approach to teaching and learning might be a good idea and refreshing too.

    Retail businesses must now consider the efficacy of their brick and mortar operation. It might behoove the education system to do the same. Why can’t a certain percentage of school be conducted online saving a lot of the infrastructure costs that go with brick and mortar school buildings?

    Cutting 10% out of local school budgets is not really that big of a deal. It can be done if we begin to think a little differently about how we educate our children.

    That’s why the supes get the big bucks. No?

  9. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 7 months ago7 months ago

    I would say those "urban school superintendents"are clearly threatening to do nothing at all in the Fall – just as San Diego Superintendent Cindy Marten set the example by doing nothing at all for six full weeks this Spring, when schools closed from March 13 to April 27, when teachers weakly returned to teaching students online. (Per its pro-Labor-dominated School Board, San Diego administrators quietly waited for new … Read More

    I would say those “urban school superintendents”are clearly threatening to do nothing at all in the Fall – just as San Diego Superintendent Cindy Marten set the example by doing nothing at all for six full weeks this Spring, when schools closed from March 13 to April 27, when teachers weakly returned to teaching students online. (Per its pro-Labor-dominated School Board, San Diego administrators quietly waited for new union contracts to be negotiated. Teachers were paid throughout while kids sat at home without direction.)

    And now, in a moment of less money than ever before and serious physical disruption to our traditional huge 35-student classroom norms, there are bald demands to hire yet more personnel – nurses and counselors to take kids’ temperatures? How about the “education” part? When does that ever get attention? I submit this moment tests the emptiness of the slogan, “We’re all in this together.”

    Replies

    • Dan Plonsey 7 months ago7 months ago

      "There are bald demands to hire yet more personnel – nurses and counselors to take kids’ temperatures." You're saying that nurses are unnecessary? Or that assuring the well-being of students and staff is unnecessary? And you don't think "the 'education' part" gets attention in schools? The implication is that educators are uninterested in education, and therefore deserve to get sick and die. Read More

      “There are bald demands to hire yet more personnel – nurses and counselors to take kids’ temperatures.” You’re saying that nurses are unnecessary? Or that assuring the well-being of students and staff is unnecessary? And you don’t think “the ‘education’ part” gets attention in schools? The implication is that educators are uninterested in education, and therefore deserve to get sick and die.

      • Dr. Bill Conrad 6 months ago6 months ago

        The COVID-19 crisis did not cause failures in the K-12 education. It just exposed pathologies and brought them into higher relief. The reality is that the chaotic K-12 education system has meandered far afield of its core mission of the academic achievement and civic learning for the children of California. The student achievement data speaks volumes to these failures. Only about 40% of all students in California met or exceeded Math Standards … Read More

        The COVID-19 crisis did not cause failures in the K-12 education. It just exposed pathologies and brought them into higher relief.

        The reality is that the chaotic K-12 education system has meandered far afield of its core mission of the academic achievement and civic learning for the children of California. The student achievement data speaks volumes to these failures.

        Only about 40% of all students in California met or exceeded Math Standards on the CAASPP last year and only 28% of Hispanic students met or exceeded Standards. These are the results that the K-12 education system produced before the pandemic!

        So a parent’s concern about the focus of the system on “education” during the pandemic is not unreasonable and certainly does not mean that she does not have concern for the health and safety of educators or the children.

        Just as businesses have to rethink their operations in moving from brick and mortar to online, so do educators need to move to revise their dependence on brick and mortar to online.

        Given the massive amount of math and science illiteracy among teachers and administrators, it might be an advantage to engage students in quality online math programs and pedagogy such as the Khan Academy.

        Teachers could then lead and facilitate real-world projects that would allow students to demonstrate their understanding of math content knowledge and skills. Teachers and administrators could plan poster presentations that students could conduct online or even within school venues where they could receive feedback from content experts and teachers.

        All should observe social distancing and the wearing of masks.

        The pandemic should become an opportunity to transform the broken K-12 education, not to continue to promote an already failed K-12 education system where the leaders and practitioners continue to advocate for the status quo and of course more and more funding with no real plans, no monitoring of implementation, and no accountability.

        • Zeta Dooba 6 months ago6 months ago

          Do you have children? Have you ever tried to learn math online? My daughter does private school Zoom lessons and 2 of her classes are foreign languages not spoken at home. I could not teach it without sitting through the classes myself and going over it with her. That means I don't work. You can't claim to know anything about what teachers are going through without actually doing it yourself. It is ridiculous people don't … Read More

          Do you have children? Have you ever tried to learn math online? My daughter does private school Zoom lessons and 2 of her classes are foreign languages not spoken at home. I could not teach it without sitting through the classes myself and going over it with her. That means I don’t work. You can’t claim to know anything about what teachers are going through without actually doing it yourself. It is ridiculous people don’t understand how you can’t implement massive changes overnight and in a few months this will still be an experiment. Understand this, teachers are not the enemy, please have some respect.

  10. Marco 7 months ago7 months ago

    How is "deferring" a portion of funding to districts supposed to help them to weather this crisis? Sure, it's better to get money later than not at all, but how are districts supposed to fund operations next year? Is the idea that districts will issue revenue anticipation notes to borrow against those future promised revenues, so that they have the money that they need this year? If so, wouldn't it make more sense for the … Read More

    How is “deferring” a portion of funding to districts supposed to help them to weather this crisis? Sure, it’s better to get money later than not at all, but how are districts supposed to fund operations next year? Is the idea that districts will issue revenue anticipation notes to borrow against those future promised revenues, so that they have the money that they need this year? If so, wouldn’t it make more sense for the state itself to do one big revenue anticipation note and actually give districts the money, rather than forcing every district in the state to go through the hassle, time, and administrative expense of doing their own RANs?