guest columnist:

The Glendale Unified School District has a lot of good news to share with the community. Four more schools were recently named California Distinguished Schools: Dunsmore, La Crescenta, R.D. White, and Muir Elementary Schools. With 74% of our schools having received this honor that is intended for only the top 5% of schools in the state, we see that our programs are successful. A State Academic Performance Index score of 807 (a score of 200-1000, with a state target of 800) shows that academic performance district-wide is high. Students annually heading off to tier one universities and returning to share stories of personal success prove that our students are well prepared and our community is being served well. Additionally, in their SchoolMatters report, Standard & Poor’s indicated that the Glendale Unified School District’s return on spending is well above the state average. In other words, we do more with fewer resources than is the case for many other districts in the state.

It is difficult to understand why the State of California, who could compete economically on its own with entire countries like Japan, now ranks 46th out of the 50 states in per student funding (see www.edweek.org/rc). This was certainly not the case when many of us went to school. California funding for education ranked at a much more respectable levels during the 60s, 70s, and 80s — as high as fifth. It is a sad commentary that California education funding has deteriorated so much in recent years to the point of receiving a D+ grade from Education Week, a national periodical, for funding nearly $2000 under the national average per pupil.

Added to general funding shortfalls, is a decline in enrollment caused by the fact that housing prices in the Glendale/La Crescenta area exceed the budgets of many young families. This decline in enrollment causes an additional annual loss of $3-4 million. District funding difficulties are now further compromised by the proposed state budget that seeks to deal with a $14-16 billion deficit, cutting $4.8 billion from education, and allocating $765 less per student. This proposed budget would result in an additional loss of roughly $10 million for the Glendale Unified School District for the 2008-2009 school year.

Unfortunately, as a result of all of these chronic funding issues, our attention as district leaders is distracted from the central mission-student achievement. We find ourselves more and more having to focus on how to get the needed monies, instead of how to increase academic achievement. Even as we seek by all means possible to increase efficiency, and downsize at the district offices in order to protect classroom resources, the reality is that shortfalls in funding inevitably impact class size and student-teacher ratios. Our higher cost of living in Southern California requires a teacher salary substantially higher than the national average (despite our below average funding). The teacher is our greatest classroom resource, and worth investing in. However, the fact is that a brilliant, passionate, hard-working teacher can do much more when working with a smaller class size.

Class size is one thing being sacrificed now by our state leaders who suggest a $4.8 billion reduction of funding for public education. Whatever the political affiliation, most people would raise their hands in support of leaving the world a better place for generations to come. Most everyone wants to provide children with better opportunities than they had. Yet, current state education funding levels prove that we are not doing these things — even without considering the looming $14-16 billion state budget deficit.

As ugly a fact as that may be, it is better that we face it, so that we can change it in order to leave a better legacy.


MICHAEL F. ESCALANTE is supertintendent of the Glendale Unified School District. Reach him at mescalante@gusd.net.

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