More school cuts rain down

The head of the Gilroy Teachers Association is angry and the
school district’s administration is braced for a tough go after
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for merit-based pay for teachers
and more budget cuts in his State of the State address this
Gilroy – The head of the Gilroy Teachers Association is angry and the school district’s administration is braced for a tough go after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for merit-based pay for teachers and more budget cuts in his State of the State address this week.

In his second address on Wednesday, Schwarzenegger emphatically suggested that teachers’ salaries should be based on merit rather than tenure, stating that “we must financially reward good teachers and expel those who are not.”

“The more we reward excellent teachers, the more our teachers will be excellent,” he said in the address. “The more we tolerate ineffective teachers, the more our teachers will be ineffective.”

Michelle Nelson, president of the Gilroy Teachers Association, received the governor’s recommendations with disdain.

“He has no idea what he’s talking about,” she said. “He is placing all the accountability for the child’s success on the teacher without mentioning that there are other factors. We have a higher number of kids in this state who do not speak English as their first language, we have higher class sizes than other states and less funding than other states. He wants us to perform miracles, and when we don’t perform miracles, it’s our fault.”

But board member David McRae agreed with the governor’s suggestion to tie pay with merit, with one reservation.

“The concept is not a problem to me at all,” he said. “But, at the same time, how are you going to judge teachers who work with special needs children? What’s a fair system? What happens when teachers only want to teach high-performing students, such as (Gifted and Talented Education) students?”

McRae said his biggest concern with the proposal was students who have special needs or come from economically disadvantaged families.

“Who’s going to care for those kids under that system with those needs?” he said. “But the idea of being competitive and rewarding for good performance is something I completely support.”

Nelson also questioned the governor’s failure to place responsibility for student achievement with anyone other than teachers.

“Why isn’t district administration being held at the same standard as teachers?” she asked. “Why aren’t the bureaucrats at the state level not being held accountable for doing their job for education in the state of California? … I’m getting annoyed just thinking about this.”

Board member Rhoda Bress said the governor’s approach to acquiring and retaining high-quality teachers in California is problematic.

“It is incomplete because it does not address what could lead to a real solution, namely administrators doing a better job of evaluating staff,” she said. “In GUSD, an effective evaluation system should set clear, objective criteria, provide opportunities for teachers to develop professionally and result in highly qualified teachers in all of our classrooms.”

Another issue drawing heat is the governor’s proposal to withdraw a promised $2 billion slated for public education this fiscal year.

The governor called a special session of the Legislature on Wednesday to discuss a number of ideas aimed at relieving the state’s $8.1 million deficit. The final proposal will be released Monday, but it is expected that $4 billion that was earmarked for public education this fiscal year under Proposition 98 will be split, with half going toward the deficit and the other half staying with public education.

Voters approved Proposition 98 in 1988, requiring that about 40 percent of the state general fund be spent on public schools and community colleges. The Legislature and governor can suspend the minimum, but if they do, the money that’s deferred must be repaid.

The state owes several billion dollars to education that Schwarzenegger has now proposed to pay back over 15 years. But under the governor’s plan to reform the budget process, any across-the-board cuts would be automatic, and schools wouldn’t be repaid.

Steve Brinkman, GUSD’s assistant superintendent of administrative services, said it’s unclear at this point exactly how the cuts will impact GUSD. Nevertheless, he said, trying to plan a budget under the state’s fickle behavior is burdensome at best.

“Most entities have some ability to plan revenue or the ability to influence revenue, such as the city, which can raise fees and pass through costs,” Brinkman said. “School districts have very little ability to influence revenue other than maximize attendance at schools.”

The address comes on the heels of a study released Monday by the Rand Corp., which concluded California schools are among the most overcrowded and underfunded in the country.

“It’s very frustrating to have the state pulling money that’s been planned on,” McRae said. “It’s costing people jobs, and it’s hurting students. I can’t see any positive in it, in any way,” he said. “In my opinion, Californians are becoming selfish toward children, and they’re not funding programs towards schools like they should be. Obviously, that’s the will of Californians, but it’s a sad statement.”

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