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July 29, 2009

Propping up our budget-blasted public schools: how much are you willing to pay?

The three districts that run public schools in Walnut Creek are facing a combined shortfall of near $40 million.


Going into the 2009-10 school year, Walnut Creek, with 3,300 students, is down $3 million and has had to lay off 15 teachers; Acalanes, which runs Las Lomas High School, is down $5 million.

In the toughest spot is the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. With 34,000 students and more than 50 schools, the district will be down $30 million and has laid off around 100 teachers, raised elementary and ninth-grade class sizes, and, as of now, eliminated high school sports.

Superintendents in East Bay suburban districts up and down the Interstate 680 corridor say they have not just cut into the “fat,” but into the meat--and in some cases into the bone.

We can all find people, systems, and situations at which to point the blame: the recession, Sacramento’s mind-numbing dysfunction, and the bizarre methods and legal restrictions with which we fund public schools and set their budgets.

Despite the “moving target” of the state budget, as school leaders describe it, they say they have done their best to come up with balanced budgets going into the 2009-10 school year. That's sort of the good news. The bad news is that superintendents expect things to get worse.

In the meantime, parent, community groups, and local school education foundations are rallying hard to raise money to pay for a variety of programs.

For example, Walnut Creek school district just announced that it was looking to place an indefinite renewal of its $82 parcel tax on the November 3 ballot.

Do you have kids in Walnut Creek public schools? Will you contribute? Would you be willing to keeping paying this parcel tax, which was due to expire in 2011?

Do you think people who don’t have kids in schools should care enough to approve the parcel tax or donate money? (Suburban homeowners should know by now--like it or not--that their property values are strongly linked to the API performance and reputations of their local public schools).

Here’s a break-down of what districts and parent and community groups are doing to prop up our public schools in these tough budget times:

Walnut Creek School District:
The school district agreed to put the parcel tax on the November 3 ballot. Winning parcel taxes are tricky, because they require not a majority but two-thirds of voters to say "yes." We're also facing an off election year, unless the red-hot race for Ellen Tauscher's replacement as the U.S. representative in the 10th congressional district makes it beyond the September 1 primary.

Also: With its Giving Campaign 2009, the Walnut Creek Education Foundation is looking to raise $625,000 to fund: art, music, and physical education at the elementary schools: librarians and counselors at Walnut Creek Middle School; and librarians, counselors and the leadership class at Las Lomas High School.

Acalanes Unified School District:
Fundraising through parents clubs and educational foundations in the individual communities of Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda--including the Walnut Creek Education Foundation--are expected to bring in $800,000 for the district's four high schools in 2009-10. As some of you may be aware, the educational foundations in these districts, especially in Lamorinda, have pretty tight-knit, established organizations for parent fundraising.


Mt. Diablo Unified School District:
The failure of the Measure D $99 parcel tax was a huge blow; it would have brought in around $7 million a year to the district. This loss has added to the district's woes, which include raising class sizes and, for now, cutting high school sports.


United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation comprises representatives from all six high schools, which are often fierce rivals on the playing fields but collaborators in a campaign to raise funds to keep high school sports going. The foundation's goal is to raise $720,000 and has a series of events planned in the next few months. Meanwhile, some parents have started a grass-roots campaign to ask homeowners within the district, who supported Measure D, to donate the $99 they would have paid for the parcel tax. You can donate by going to the district's website here, or by mailing or delivering checks to the Fiscal Services Department at the District Office, 1936 Carlotta Dr., Concord, CA 94519.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

We've never been able to donate any significant amount to WCEF, and we've had children in WCSD schools since the 2002-2003 school year. Instead, I give my time to one of the elementary school sites (have been since 2004).

It's hard to make those darned "suggested donation" amounts to WCEF when it amounts to an entire months grocery budget, on top of all those "fees" the individual school sites slam down in the first month of school.

To be honest, I'd rather just pay the parcel tax, the various little fees to the school sites, and tell WCEF that they can keep the yearly guilt trip they dish out.

In the current economy, I think WCEF shouldn't be turning it's back on the "car wash and bake sale" kinds of fund raising or yesteryear

Masterlock said...

Here's what's wrong with our state: http://www.capitolweekly.net/article.php?xid=y5qn8ger3ylp9c. Think how many students just half of these guy's annual payout would support, that's about two teacher's annual salary.

Anonymous said...

Masterlock- Thanks for the link, that is absolutely crazy! I'm am all for supporting those who have protected us during their careers (police, fire, military), but this is just downright abusive and greedy.

Kelly

Anonymous said...

We volunteer and support WCEF events as much as possible. I don't find them dishing out a guilt trip... Paying/extending the parcel tax is not enough. People need to get involved, that's what makes your school system work. I attended the WCEF fund raiser "under the dome" this summer. Nice event, they should have more like it. We would've spend the same amount going out to dinner. A car wash and a bake sale is nice also but we can't just depend on only ideas from yesteryear. Get involved people, the taxes will not be enough.

Anonymous said...

The District must make sure these funds are secure and reliable as they plan for the future - California's school districts spend way to much time as the lifeboats tied to the stern of the Titanic - renewing the district's parcel - without increasing the cost to taxpayers - is an essential step towards the creation of some small measure of local control. They are our kids - they ought to be our schools -

Anonymous said...

Masterlock, thanks for the article, makes me sick. These guys take care of their own with our money. How about those prison guard salaries! Don't they make about 4 times what a teacher makes?

Soccer Mom said...

Yes, Masterlock, thanks for sharing that article.

To other WCSD parents, we, too, have trouble keeping up with all those donations, both to WCEF and to the parent group at my son's school. We only have one child; I can't imagine if you have two, three, four.

I volunteered for the fundraising group at my son's school. Unfortunately, asking for money is not a strength. But I've always tried to volunteer in my son's classroom. That's really rewarding, and it does make you feel more connected to the school community.

The fact that we have education foundations means that public schools aren't "free" anymore.

Anonymous said...

Most families have fat that they can cut out. How often do you eat out each month? Once a week? Twice a month?

Goal: Eat out half as much and bank the rest. You'd be surprised at how much you could contribute to your local school district.

How many Starbucks do you have a day or week? If you have three coffees a week, cut it down to two and put the $4 you'd spend on your third into a jar and save it.

Put $1 each day into a jar or box. You'll average $30 each month.

Another suggestion is to involve your kid(s). Have them put a small portion of their allowance away. No, it probably won't be much, but it will teach them to truly VALUE their education.

Anonymous said...

the option for monthly donation for WCEF makes it more comfortable -- we donate $50/month.

Anonymous said...

The first few words in your article indicate one of the real problem areas to me. THREE districts in ONE city!

I can't help but wonder if a more cohesive district re-alignment would offer better economies of scale and a better identity for the shared problems.

Three districts??!!

Anonymous said...

Actually there are FIVE school districts in Walnut Creek. Some WC residents attend San Ramon Valley schools and others attend Lafayette schools. Yes, incredibly ridiculous. Removing the real Berlin Wall was easier than uniting our city under ONE district.

Anonymous said...

I posted the first anonymous reply on this post.

I think the point that frequently gets lost with the powers that be in the WCEF is that both WCSD and Las Lomas do serve quite a few working class families who quite frankly may not have the kind of disposable income to make that $500/year donation easy to take.

I'm not saying stop the current fundraising protocol, but just not to turn their backs on the smaller stuff either. In this economy, anything helps.

I sincerely wish that my family could make that $500/year donation, but unfortunately, we can't.

Anonymous said...

coandachHats off to all who donate either time or money to their local schools. I live in the Walnut Acres Elementary area and I donated my parcel tax directly to Coleen Dowd, the principal. It is important to support your local school even if you don't have children in them. We can effect change only on a local level--Stand by your local schools( especially if you are in Mount Diablo district).

Anonymous said...

MDUSD has set up foundations, Athletics and Music. We can help all our students and schools. Remember, it is all for one and one for all. There will not be music or sports at ANY schools if money is not raised to support all current programs and at all schools.

I support our high school by being a very active volunteer, I support our district by attending meetings. I support our school financially by joining PTSA, Athletic Boosters and helping with fundraising. I support our distict as well by donating the $99 for Measure D, by attending the UMDAF meetings. It can be done and we as adults need to set the standard and stop with the elitism attitude. Our children are suffering and we as a community and educated adults need to start steering our children in the right direction.

I am sorry anon 8;30 AM, you are part of the problem, not the solution. I grew up in Walnut Creek and am sad how WC is now, not the wonderful community it used to be.

Anonymous said...

Ruth @ 10:49,

Please stop blogging.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that those of you who have giving campaigns at work can donate to your schools and foundations through payroll automatic deduction. You can have $5/pay period deducted if you like. This method does send a little money to the agency that handles the contribution, but it's the easiest way to get money to your local community. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Sorry this is so late, but I hope someone reads it!

Oh, and what 10:49 doesn't know or isn't saying is that there are five districts in Walnut Creek. Some kids attend SRVUSD, and some attend Lafayette Elementary SD. She's also including Acalanes and WCSD as "two" districts even though they are the equivalent of one. It's a little disingenuous.

Anonymous said...

The GUILT TRIP PROGRAM (GTP) and the PARCEL TAX (PT) both suck.

The answer is local income tax. If we all need to help prop the schools up, then we should. In an equitable and coherent manner. And, in conjunction with stringent public auditing of the union monopolized school districts.

I have read the budgets and believe that there are opportunities for the unionized employees to come together and bear the same burden the economy has, of late, levied on the rest of us non-unionized mortals.