California is currently reviewing possible educational budget cuts and the last few staff meetings of the year included discussions on how we will be tightening the financial belt for the 2012-13 school year.
One thing that upsets me is that our budget seems to be determined by people who know little about the needs of a rural school. For example, our school district, and all the school districts of California, lost their transportation funding halfway through the 2011-2012 school year. Every school needs transportation funding, but a rural school cannot go without it. Rural busing is one of the district’s highest costs because students sometimes live 10-20 miles away from their schools, and putting the cost of gas and driving strain on the parents may literally cost more than rural families can afford.
The other big area of budget tightening was, of course, electives and extracurricular activities. One action our school took was to send out a survey to all staff members and families asking everyone to prioritize the following school options: artist visits, strings program, school counselor, sports, field trips, and yearbook. These are all programs our school has always scraped together funding for and provided to our students.
The artist visits took place five times, spread out over the spring. The school counselor came once every other week. The sporting events took place throughout the year in basketball, volleyball, and softball. The field trips were two-three every trimester. The yearbooks were provided to all students free of charge.
I realize some of these things other schools have long stopped paying for and had students’ families pay for them, but just like with the busing, a rural school that serves families of limited means can only ask so much of the families. When the school serves as the main point of exposure for the students, it’s hard to not want to offer as much as possible.
Our school board was all in favor of keeping sports and field trips going, but they wanted to cut out our counselor visits. Every single teacher felt like this was a bad idea, when our most challenging students were benefitting from meeting with her. Thanks to our staff and parent survey, we were able to help the board realize how impactful our counselor was, when she came in with the highest number of priority votes, even over field trips and sports.
The staff was equally surprised to learn how much parents like the yearbook, and would even be willing to pay a portion of the cost. The artist program and strings program, though, are still on the chopping block. We’re examining other grants to help us keep them going.
What types of things are your school districts cutting, or making an effort to keep despite cuts? How do they go about obtaining parent input?