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Another view: Protecting a tradition of quality education: The state of Auburn schools

Another View
By: Michele Schuetz, superintendent, and Douglas Crancer, assistant superintendent, Auburn Union School District
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Despite many obstacles, the instruction occurring in Auburn classrooms is working. Thanks to our outstanding teachers and the dedicated parents who volunteer in our classrooms, student achievement and test scores have been on the rise. However, this progress is threatened. These are challenging times for all of us, and our local schools are no exception. For nearly 10 consecutive years, the Auburn Union School District has faced declining funding for our neighborhood elementary and middle schools. Our Board of Trustees has worked hard to ensure that classroom instruction and programs for our kids were the last thing to be cut. As a result we have a very lean, streamlined and efficient school district with the minimum administration and non-teaching staff possible. By acting proactively, the district worked with the community through the Budget Advisory Committee to determine how it could cut costs. Here are just a few examples of what has been cut: an assistant superintendent, the director of accounting, vice principals, counselors, librarians, computer lab specialists, a human resources specialist, instructional aides, custodial time, playground supervision and technology support. In addition, the Board of Trustees made the very difficult decision to close Alta Vista School, saving the district approximately $300,000 in ongoing personnel expenses (principal, office staff, custodians, etc.). The board also eliminated sixth through eighth grade education at Skyridge Elementary to reduce costs and achieve efficiencies. Our teachers, staff, administrators and board have shared in the pain by accepting furlough days, reduced salaries/benefits, and position eliminations that have amounted to savings of approximately $800,000. Teachers will have 10 furlough days over two years. The district’s support staff (instructional aides, custodians, non-management office staff, etc.) had eight furlough days over two years along with position eliminations. The Board of Trustees took the lead by eliminating their stipend and the option for health benefits. All administrators have accepted a salary/benefit cuts that are equivalent to 20 furlough days over two years. Administration and non-teaching staff have been reduced to the bare minimum. There is no more overhead to cut. The state has cut approximately $2.7 million (an amount equivalent to about $32,500 per classroom) in funding for our local schools. As the state’s budget deficit has grown and state funding for our schools has been reduced, we’ve had no choice but to make cuts that do directly impact the quality of education available to our local students. Class sizes have increased, the elementary music program was eliminated, teaching positions have been eliminated and valued instructional programs have been cut. As we look ahead, we have two choices. We can hope that the politicians in Sacramento get their act together and restore funding for our local schools. Or, we can look at options for enhancing local control and protecting our schools from ongoing state budget cuts. One thing is clear: if we do nothing and funding for our schools continues to decline, we will have no choice but to keep making deep cuts to instructional programs, lay off teachers and increase class sizes. In order to protect Auburn schools from further state budget cuts and provide a stable source of funding that cannot be taken away by the state, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to place The Quality Education Preservation Act of 2010 (Measure L) on the November ballot. If approved by voters, Measure L would protect core academic programs like math, science, reading and writing, preserve small class sizes, maintain hands-on science programs and labs, and retain qualified teachers. Measure L will cost $59 per year per parcel with an exemption available to seniors and people with disabilities. By law, no funds from Measure L may be used for administrators’ salaries. All funds must stay in our local elementary and middle schools. Funds cannot be taken by the state. Every single penny will stay in our community. Measure L automatically expires in five years and cannot be renewed without voter approval. A voluntary independent citizens’ oversight committee will review all expenditures and ensure all funds are spent appropriately and as voters intended. We hope you will take the time to read Measure L, ask questions and carefully consider your vote on this important measure. To learn more, contact Michele Schuetz, superintendent, at (530) 885-7242 or by e-mail at mschuetz@auburn.k12.ca.us.