Budget cuts (part 1)

Every governmental agency seems to be having financial troubles right now, and the troubles only seem to be getting worse. Recently, California was disqualified from receiving federal Race to the Top funds. Our school district is planning in huge cuts.

In our usual Tuesday professional development meeting, we were asked by our assistant principal to think about our school’s priorities. Our school’s 2010-11 budget will be determined using a new process, “community-based budgeting,” and so our input was desired to help determine next year’s budget.

As with most organizations, salaries and wages are the largest portion of our school’s budget. So, naturally, we were asked to think about the functions that are necessary for our school to function. Do we need administrative staff, clerical staff, coordinators, a librarian? The answer, of course, is that we need all of those positions to function. The mood in the room quickly soured when it became apparent that this conversation about our school’s priorities was really about what positions we could cut to save money.

Tension was high. Many teachers spoke passionately about their discomfort at being asked to identify positions to cut and that many at the school are already asked to take on other functions because we are understaffed. For example, many teachers complained that they are often unable to refer students to the office because there is no one in the office; office staff are often called out to do other things so the office is locked and unstaffed.

After the meeting, morale was visibly low. I left with a suspicion that the whole conversation about our school’s priorities was really an attempt to help manage expectations–the inescapable reality is that budget cuts will result in loss of positions and the teachers and staff at this school will be asked to do more than they ever have with less; nothing in our conversation seemed like it was going to change that fact.

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