• Allan J. Mucerino

LEAN TIMES ARE BACK IN EDUCATION

Updated: Mar 22, 2018

Editor's note: Thank you students and other readers for reminding me that I have been remiss in not keeping up my blog. I’ve been writing plenty, just not in blog form. But I’m back!

In December of 2016, San Diego Unified school officials cut $116.6 million from the 2017-18 budget to avoid trouble in an uncertain future. Whether in anticipation of Governor Brown’s foreboding 2017-18 budget message that the 2017-18 budget will be the most difficult California has faced since 2012, or in anticipation of Federal policies supporting free market education, or both, it was a smart move. Ahead of the curve.

Since then a number of school districts in and around where my school district resides are in the process of layoffs and substantial cuts to programs. Other districts are experiencing organizational challenges as a result of having to practice conservative fiscal practices after multiple years of spending thanks to an expanding economy and the LCFF. Still others are battling declining enrollment and the additional layer of uncertainty that it brings to the decision-making process related to spending.

Declining enrollment is the most acute form of fiscal uncertainty. Numerous studies validate that education costs per pupil rise as enrollments decline. The fiscal strain is particularly acute in the short-run. In my Resource Optimization in PreK-12 Education class we tackle this dilemma in a project-based learning experience where students work as district teams to reconfigure their school district after years of declining enrollment left their district a model of inefficiency. There are three primary reasons declining enrollment decimates school districts: (1) the cumulative effect of personnel contracts being signed based on projected student counts and the subsequent one year lag in staff reductions; (2) seniority provisions that generally lead to the layoff of teachers with the least experience, training, and salaries; and (3) the reluctance to close schools until the decline is so severe that the weight of fixed expenditures on staff, building maintenance, and operations can no longer be ignored.

Cumulatively, these factors lead to the snowball effect as existing students begin to leave the district as survival cuts cost school's valuable programs and closures divide neighborhoods and change the dynamic of the district. It can turn quick if a district is in denial or a governance team is inexperienced or reluctant to take bold steps. I have seen it I have lived it.

In my current class, Leadership of Curricular and Instructional Practices, we study resource allocation from the lens of an instructional leader. The focus revolves around creatively deploying instructional resources in contrast to traditional models, to best support the school’s curricular and instructional goals. For example, if the school’s curricular and instructional goals require flexible student grouping in longer and varied blocks of time, a structure that provides more personal learning environments for students, and an abundance of collaboration/planning time for teachers, then traditional staffing roles and the staff workday needs to redefined (and possibly renegotiated). The reason this hardly ever happens is because of institutional barriers, political agendas, and organizational fatigue.

I plan to tackle institutional barriers, political agendas, and organizational fatigue in my next series of blogs. Stay tuned…..

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