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Carl Hensley, Spring 2013 Students

Despite budget cuts, Cajon Valley elementary schools fight for student success

By: Carl Hensley

The education budget is the largest budget in the state of California, and because of that, public schools are the first to face cuts.

Many school districts across the state are seeing less funding and more layoffs since the state budget crisis hit in 2007.

Cajon Valley School District in San Diego’s East County is seeing the same issues the rest of the state is up against regarding education budgets.

 The district has about $166 million in total funding and about $160 million in total expenses.

 A new budget that Gov. Jerry Brown wants to implement will bring class size down to about 24 students to 1 teacher by 2021.

 “I’m hopeful, but I’m not sure when or if it will happen,” said Scott Buxbaum, assistant superintendent of business services for Cajon Valley Union School District.

Brown’s budget proposal will allow districts to hire the teachers they need to reduce class size, but it is also unrestricted money.  The district can use it for other expenses like technology or maintenance.  Brown also wants to increase spending in California for K-12, community colleges and higher education.

Gail Boone is the Principal of Avocado Elementary in East County. It is her first year with the school and says even though they have money for the basic supplies from the district, the don’t have enough for the extras.  The PTA pulls their own money for these extras.

Around the County:

The largest school district in San Diego is not free from these cuts either.

For the San Diego Unified School District, 25 percent of its budget has been cut since 2007.  This is a loss of about $500 million district wide.  With these cuts, enrollment has remained at a stable level while teachers and district employees are being laid off.

Because of the layoffs, the student-teacher ratio in the district is going up.

In the most recent budget proposal, SDUSD is seeing an $88.2 million deficit, which translates to about 1,000 jobs in the district.

 Cajon Valley Union by the numbers:

Cajon Valley Union is a large suburban school district within San Diego, consisting of 741 teachers and more than 16,140 students. It has a student teacher ratio of 21 to 1.  This district covers  Santee, Lakeside, Alpine, Jamul-Dulzura, La Mesa, Spring Valley and El Cajon.

Its budget is spread among:

  • 20 elementary schools

  • 5 middle schools

Students in the Cajon Valley Union School District feed into the Grossmont Union High School District after middle school.

San Diego Unified by the numbers:

San Diego Unified is the largest school district in San Diego, consisting of 6,518 teachers and 131,417 students.  That is a student-to-teacher ratio of 20.2 to 1.

The total funding for the district is about $1.5 billion dollars, which is spread out between:

·      113 elementary schools

·      24 middle schools

·      10 alternative schools

·      27 high schools

·      25 charter schools

 What Cajon Valley is doing to help:

The district is trying to balance its budget for the 2013-2014 school year without having to lay off more teachers.

Board members rejected a more traditional budget that would lay off about 1,000 teachers for the new school year in a 4-1 vote in late February.

Their new plan involves selling off surplus properties of the district and not filling jobs that would be empty from this reduction.

 According to board members, this plan will end the cycle of layoffs and job restorations district wide.  The district also will not issue pink slips this year because of this new budget plan.

 The essentials:

 Buxbaum also says there are some ways outside organizations are keeping extra-curriculars in schools.

 He said the Parent-Teacher Association is fundraising to keep arts, music and language classes in elementary schools.

 “We are trying to bring back the well rounded student with the new budget,” Buxbaum said.

One program provided by the state is not being impacted by budget cuts.  Special education programs statewide are actually receiving more money because they need certain resources for special needs students.  Michele Kmak is a special education teacher at Northmont Elementary school.  “They all have a specialized education plan. That plan becomes a law, so the district has to provide resources for these students,” Kmak says, “They need the resources.”

There is some good news for the district.  This past year the district utilized a $156.5 million bond called Proposition D to pay for improvements to schools in the district .

Also, last November, voters approved Proposition C., which allowed for the reauthorization of $88.4 million in previously approved bonds so that many of these improvements will be completed on schedule.

In 2008 , Proposition D was passed which allowed for some of the greatest improvements to Cajon Valley.  These improvements included technology upgrades at nine schools, modernization of Rancho San Diego and Vista Grande elementary schools, and the completion of the Greenfield Middle School gym, locker rooms, theater, band room, school offices, kitchen and six classrooms Proposition D committee chairperson, Karen Bunkell, said.

Some school’s extracurricular programs are thriving despite major cutbacks around the state. Cajon Valley has implemented several programs at a few schools to increase student engagement and learning.  These programs include:

  • Spanish Dual Language program

  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program

  • International Baccalaureate

  • FAME-Fine Arts Magnet Education

These new programs are a relief for teachers, parents and students. Last year, nearly half the school districts in California cut programs like these from their schools.

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