3%: About Cost-Cutting Measu-es…

The recent news of a 46.7million dollar mid-year reduction in education funding has plenty of educators and advocates up in arms. The news has sent district administrators scrambling to slash their own budgets as the state department rolled out a plan to cut funding by 3% across the board. 3% doesn’t sound like a lot. After all, if we were asked to reduce our household budgets by 3%, it would probably amount to giving up our daily happy hour at Sonic, limiting our itunes purchases, and drinking coffee from our keurig instead of Starbucks.

The problem for school districts is that they’ve already endured steep budget cuts that have forced cost-saving measures. This includes eliminating or downsizing certain areas and programs in schools. It includes increasing class sizes to avoid hiring additional staff. It includes energy efficiency measures, and putting maintenance and repair needs on the back-burner.

In other words, we’ve already trimmed the fat. Now some districts are faced with decisions of deciding which essential services are more essential-er than others. What does a 3% cut mean when you’re already cut to the bone?

 

What if you asked me to reduce the number of letters in the alphabet I use to write my posts by just one letter? That’s less than 4% of the alphabet. I still have 96% left. That should be doable, right? Let’s say it’s the letter “R”.File Jan 16, 9 27 12 AM

 

This seems easy at first the beginning. I’ll just have to be careful cautious about choosing words terms language that avoids that letter consonant, and make substitutions when necessary essential. Perhaps Maybe it’s not as popular prevalent a letter consonant after all as we thought. Some might say this is an opportunity a chance to expand my vocabulary terminology lexis. It’s also a great fantastic way to utilize the thesaurus…ummm…alternate substitute word language finder thingy.

A few good things might come of eliminating the consonant-that-shall-not-be-named: we can finally stop hearing listening to the word concept of “rigor” stiffness in association with curriculum instruction teaching, and merit advantage pay will have to go by another a different not the same name (actually, “advantage pay” seems more accurate appropriate fitting). Also out the window: discussions over about standards criteria normswhatever…dammit.

You can see that reducing downsizing the alphabet by just one letter consonant makes writing communicating more extra tedious-er in an amount that is additional to average standard normal customary.

Back to the topic of budget cuts (hooray hallelujah! A sentence without the layed-off character consonant). While school leaders administrators superintendents financial officers head-of-all-the-stuff people have been trimming cutting budgets to coincide with less per-pupil state-allocated funds to education, we have reached arrived at landed upon a critical grave serious dangerous crucial unfavorable perilous significant tipping point. School districts communities are must now decide among programs activities, classes, and staff that have been considered widely accepted as essential in the past. In other words, In short, To sum up: We find ourselves there is upon having “cut the fat” (though some would not consider think of small class sizes, extra-curricular activities, tutoring additional instruction help, support custodial, secretarial administrative people-who-actually-keep-the-school-going, and para-professional teacher assistant staff, heat and air that-stuff-we-breathe-inhale conditioning, safe and updated facilities, technology, and additional ammenties as expendible) we must now decide which limb to amputate.

 

This is giving me a headache. I think you get the picture idea. A little is a lot when it’s all you have to begin with.

#GiveItBackOK

A while back I chimed in on a facebook post (I know…dangerous territory) concerning school activities and how much they cost. This particular parent was alarmed to discover the $100 fee for her daughter to participate in the high school musical. While I shared her alarm at the $25 non-refundable audition fee, I pointed out that $100 for participation in the show was pretty reasonable. Being a music teacher, I understand the costs of these productions. Costumes, lumber for sets, prop rentals, stage make-up, additional light and sound equipment, choreographer and musician fees, not to mention the royalties and material fees (yes, we have to rent the scripts and scores!)…it adds up! We shelled out $3000 for new microphones in the first production I helped direct. I can’t tell you what the snow machine rental cost, but can you imagine White Christmas ending without snow? A colleague of mine told me their production cost $32,000 last year. $32,000! What we charge for tickets, concessions, and merchandise is usually just a prayer on our part to cover the overhead, and have enough leftover to seed next year’s production.

 

One frustrated commenter on this feed asked, “doesn’t the school pay for anything anymore?”

 

Yes. They do. They pay for teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, administrators, security guards, cafeteria workers, and custodians. They pay for classroom furniture—desks, chairs, whiteboards, shelves, tables for the art rooms, risers for the choir room, pianos for the band room. They pay for books, curriculum, and technology. They campaign for and pass bond issues to help build new schools, athletics facilities, and performing arts centers. Really, YOU (and I) have been paying for those things with our tax dollars.

 

But in recent years, fewer of your tax dollars have been making it to the growing number of children in our state’s pubic education system. Schools are paying for a lot. But they’re able to pay for a lot less now due to steep budget cuts. They have to make tough choices. They’re trying to decide if they can live with one less media specialist so they can hire an additional Math instructor to ease the 35-per-class load on Geometry teachers. They go with the math position because the media center is tied up with testing for half the year anyway.

 

Forgive me if this makes me a traitor to my colleagues teaching the Fine Arts, but I get why funding the musical is pretty low on the priority totem pole right now. As a result, many of us find we must fund more and more of our programs every year. My students and their parents must raise the money to pay for every opportunity in which they partake in vocal music. Here are some of our expenses:

 

  • Uniform Rental: $50
  • All-State Audition: $10 (JH)/$15(HS) per student
    • Note: If they make it, we ask them to fork over more money–$45 for each junior high student, and $79 for each high school, plus the cost of their hotel rooms (2 nights for JH, 3 nights for HS) and meals
  • Accompanist Fees: $25/hour
  • Transportation: $1/mile PLUS an hourly fee for driver
  • Substitute Teachers: $60/day for every activity
  • Solo Fee for contest: $10/student (plus accompanist fee)
  • Ensemble Fees: $27-$36/ensemble (plus accompanist fee)
  • Choral Contest Fee: $50 per choir
  • Music/Curriculum: $2000-$3000/year
  • Uniform cleaning and alterations: ~$2000

 

 

These are just some of the basic things. You probably won’t be surprised to find out we sold 500 dozen cinnamon rolls last fall, and almost 200 poinsettias at the Christmas concert. As unsurprising is the fact there isn’t any money left over to purchase technology for the classroom, new uniforms for the show choir, or pay for repairs to the pianos and other equipment.

 

Bottom line: “the district” can’t give us money they don’t have. And they don’t have the money because our state has continuously cut funding to education for the past 7 years. The most recent cuts—47.6 MILLION—came in the middle of the fiscal and school year. And this comes six months after legislators patted themselves on the back for holding educational funding steady when they finally passed a budget at the end of the 2015 session. Even before the recent cut of nearly $50M, it was a decrease in per pupil spending because of our rising enrollment in Oklahoma public schools. The same amount of money and more kids means less per pupil spending. That’s not politics. That’s just math, folks. And don’t let anybody tell you differently.

 

A few weeks ago, I tried to point out that the newest tax cuts taking effect this January are irresponsible given our fiscal situation. When we’re projecting a revenue shortfall of nearly a billion dollars (that’s a BILLION with a capital “B”, folks), it’s not the time to follow through with tax cuts that will net the average middle-class family about $30/year.

 

Many people agree.

 

That’s why some of us have decided to #GiveItBackOK. Since our legislators won’t put our tax dollars to good use, we’re doing so ourselves by sending the money we’re projected to net from this new tax cut to where it’s needed most. Some are sending it to their local schools—to teachers for classroom supplies, to school lunch programs, to booster clubs, to the school district foundation for those that have them.

 

I hope this movement continues to pick up steam. I hope some of you make the choice to #GiveItBackOK, and encourage others to do so as well. But most importantly, I hope you remember to hold our legislators accountable with your vote for making us do their job of properly funding FULLY our children’s education.

Rethinking D-E-S-P-A-I-R

“Take me to a different place

Where love is not illusion based

And fear is just a word they can’t define

Where I’ve heard hope and happiness

Are found in every beating chest

‘Cause all those hearts are more or less inclined

To give it all away without a fear of what’s to break

The answer that we never seem to find

The hand we always take disintegrates without a trace

And we’re the ones they’ve always left behind”

 

I think we educators can all agree there are plenty of reasons to despair right now. Nearly 1 BILLION reasons come to mind right off the bat. If that’s not enough to fret over, there’s the reminder that the voucher wolves are at the door. If you think influences outside of our great state don’t have a vested interest in funneling public dollars into the pockets of private investors in a charter takeover of public schools…think again. And while other states have figured out that teacher pay is directly tied to retaining veteran teachers and attracting new ones, Oklahoma lawmakers stubbornly continue to pass the buck for low teacher pay to district officials. I can no longer accept that they are blissfully unaware of Oklahoma’s rank at 49th for teacher pay nationally. Add these looming concerns to inequitable evaluations, stressful high-stakes tests, and the continued loss of teacher autonomy in curriculum and teaching practices, and we paint a pretty bleak picture for educators in our state.

 

However, I find it rather fitting that if you rearrange the letters in the word “DESPAIR”, you find the word “PRAISED”. I think my colleagues in education, and those who advocate on its behalf, deserve to be praised for continuing to fight the good fight despite the surplus of despair in our field.   Here are some other words you can make from the letters of DESPAIR: Dire, PAID, Spare, Repair, Spar, and of course…PRIDE.

 

“Now I let moments pass me by

But I refuse to leave my life

To fall between the cracks of my control

I was outspoken ‘til I broke open

All the chains imprisoning my soul

And if you try to swim the other way

Then they’ll never let you see another day

But I’ve been there before
I’ve been a solder in this war

If you take it in your stride

You just might see the other side”

 

Rather than telling you some reasons to hope, let me show you some reasons educators should be praised:

Teachers who get it.
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Legislators who get it.  http://bluecerealeducation.com/okelections16/katie-henke

Students who get it.
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Educators with a sense of humor.

Students with a  sense of humor.

Kids with enough HOPE to follow in our footsteps.

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Alex (left) and Stephen (right) will complete their degrees in Music Therapy and Music Education, respectively, this spring.  Alex wants to work with kids with special needs.  Stephen (and another student not pictured, Karlee) will teach music in #oklaed (hopefully).

 

AMAZING STUDENTS.

And, of course, here are my own three reasons for clinging to hope rather than despair:

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#oklaed class of ’28, ’31, and ’32

 

 

“Help me understood the best is yet to come

Take me by the hand before I come undone

‘Cause all this emptiness has left me feeling numb…

 

But it’s darkest right before the sun”

 

Thank you, Sheppard, for the perfect theme song for this post, and possibly 2016.