|There is very little money to be saved from cutting what those people consider "fat" or "unnecessary spending." The vast bulk of spending in a school budget is for instructional personnel. That's where the cuts have to be made when the state slashes its commitment to education the way it has this year.
In the last two years, most school divisions have cut their spending for non-instructional purposes. Bus purchases have been postponed. Maintenance budgets have been cut. Office help has been terminated. Field trips have been slashed. Teacher aides have been fired.
Those cuts were used to cover previous budget shortfalls. Now, school divisions are down to the instructional part of their budgets. Metaphorically, they have cut all the fat and now must start sawing up the bones.
Roanoke City, for example, is looking at eliminating the CITY school, a program for advanced students. The Roanoke Governor's School is in jeopardy because several divisions support it financially. If even one decides to drop that program, then the area will lose the best program available to our best students.
Last year, Roanoke closed two neighborhood schools. It may well close others next year.
All over the state, there will be wrenching decisions superintendents and school boards will have to make: Four-day school weeks? Core curriculum classes with 5-10 more students in them than last year? Elimination of vocational programs with fewer than 18 or so students enrolled in them? Early retirement offered to the most experienced teachers, in order to replace them with cheaper, inexperienced ones? Elimination of all teacher aides in classes, unless mandated by federal guidelines? Elimination of school nurses? Elimination of advanced programs with low enrollment? No summer school for students needing remediation?
I taught twelfth-grade English during the last recession that necessitated instructional reductions in force. During the 1980-82 recession, my class load went from 24-25 per class to 30-35. I also no longer taught electives like creative writing and Shakespeare because they were dropped to make room for more core classes.
Take it from me, no teacher can adequately meet the needs of 30 basic English students needing intense remedial help when they are crammed into one class. Nor can a teacher meet the needs of 35 or so advanced students who deserve better than getting a couple of minutes of a teacher's time...if they are lucky enough to get that.
That 1980 recession and the loss of state funds at that time was nothing like this budget crisis in severity. So, make no mistake about it...basic public education in Virginia will be severely damaged by the GOP insistence that people who easily could afford to pay more taxes - the wealthiest Virginians - must have their pocketbooks protected at the expense of those who don't give big campaign contributions...our school children.
I'll close with one of the most insulting sets of platitudes I have read in a long time, from Del. Bill Cleaveland, my very own Republican member of the House of Delegates:
"My expectation is that if we can just rally through this hard time, and just understand that we're going to try to work together and to the extent possible depoliticize the process, I think we're going to be better off and we're going to get through this."
I agree with today's Roanoke Times editorial that quoted Del. Cleaveland:
"A pep rally won't raise graduation rates nor help a struggling elementary child learn to read. Over-age academies, tutoring, literacy programs and summer schools do. Some schoolchildren won't get through this and will be worse off...Roanoke, for example, made major cuts to its programs this year to grapple with multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls, to the detriment of academic strides made in recent years. The damage is already evident.
"How can any lawmaker - sworn to uphold the state constitution - stand by and watch that happen at school after school across the Commonwealth?"
That's an excellent question.