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Our View: Kids or not, you have a stake in Auburn schools

Our View
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Auburn school supporters, it’s time to speak now or forever hold your peace. The marriage that bonds the Auburn community with quality elementary education has been rocked the past few years by reduced enrollment and state funding. And the long-term view isn’t much rosier, despite a slight uptick in state tax forecasts that switch the school funding alert system from red to orange. On Wednesday, the Auburn Union School District board of trustees will hear a list of recommended cuts from its citizen-based budget committee for the 2011-12 school year. It’s imperative that parents, business leaders and residents understand the nature of the proposed cuts, and either share their thoughts in writing or attend the May 25 board meeting. The current budget gap is about $1.4 million. While this shortfall could change with the governor’s May revenue revision – which forecast current state taxes at $6.6 billion more than expected – Auburn Union isn’t taking that chance. “I think it’s really important we all realize we can’t plan on the best-case scenario until it is a signed and active (state) budget,” board president Daniel Berlant told the Journal. “The state’s budget is most likely not going to be signed on time and the hard part for us is our budget,” which by state law must be completed by June 30, he said. “That’s a huge dilemma we are in. We may have to make cuts not knowing what that budget is going to do until it is signed and that may not be until mid school year next year.” Cuts recommended by the budget committee include raising all classes up to at least 28 students, laying off two secretaries, imposing across-the-board salary reductions and negotiating with classified employees to pay a portion of the CalPERS pension contribution. Other reductions are less visible, such as eliminating some contracted services, reduced funding for instructional materials, and having principals cover two schools instead of one. Fifth-grade band would be eliminated. Some might say these cuts don’t go far enough, and that “administrative waste and inefficiency” still exists in districts like Auburn Union. Others believe the current trend is “death by a thousand cuts,” and that California’s public school system – once a beacon of state pride – is on a course it might never recover from. Can our children learn to be the doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs of the future with 27 other classmates vying for the teacher’s attention? Can schools improve standardized test scores without fifth-grade band? Maybe. Can they handle the volume of parent complaints and student disciplinary issues with fewer support staff and one principal toggling between school sites? Maybe not. There are plenty more questions, but one thing is undeniable: Auburn is an aging community. The hospital birthing center is set to gradually close over the next few months, while less than a mile away a proposed 858-unit senior community was rubber-stamped by the Placer County Planning Commission. While still a wonderful place to raise a family, age demographics and declining student enrollment point to future school closures, a need for further consolidation and belt tightening. Auburn Union supporters attempted to offset some of the pain last fall by asking local property owners to approve a $59 per year parcel tax. It received a majority vote, but fell far short of the two-thirds approval required. In public-school friendly communities around the state, however, the parcel tax gave life in May to more than a dozen districts living on state-funded life support. Davis approved a new annual fee of $200, raising the local school property tax to more than $520 per household per year, on top of state property tax. Auburn isn’t Davis, but we have no doubt that Auburn parents care as much about their children’s education as those in Davis. Is the greater community without children – or grandchildren – in Auburn Union schools as passionate? You have a stake in the future success of Auburn elementary schools. Let your voice be heard, and support the Auburn Union trustees who have to make these difficult choices about limited school funding.