Will Calif. Schools Survive Budget Cuts? California's public schools are facing billions of dollars in budget cuts. Large and small, districts are making tough choices. Some are cutting staff — including teachers. Others are doing their best to raise money to bridge at least some of the funding gap.
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Will Calif. Schools Survive Budget Cuts?

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Will Calif. Schools Survive Budget Cuts?

Will Calif. Schools Survive Budget Cuts?

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California's budget troubles are hurting the state's public schools. Thousands of teachers and other employees are getting laid off this month. In some districts, parents are raising money to try to keep staff. In others, school officials are simply cutting services. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN: About a dozen kindergarteners hop onto a school bus at Bonsall Elementary School.

(Soundbite of crowd)

Unidentified Woman # 1: Adios! Bye!

KAHN: Seven hundred kids ride the bus everyday through this rural district in northern San Diego County. But with the nearly million-dollar cut in state funding next year, district officials say they'll have no choice but to park the buses for good.

Mr. STEVE PHELPS (Laid Off Bus Driver, California): This is the first time that it's ever been bad enough to where it's called for this drastic of measures.

KAHN: Steve Phelps (ph) got a layoff notice. He's been fixing and driving district buses for 13 years. He says he'll miss this job, especially looking after the littlest riders.

Mr. PHELPS: You end up at the end of your route thinking that you're empty, but there's a good chance that there's some of them in the back that have fallen asleep, and some will actually slip off the seat. You don't even see them, so you really have to check your bus carefully before you lock it up to make sure you don't leave these little guys in there.

KAHN: Along with the bus drivers, Superintendent Jeff Felix says he had to layoff all classroom aides. He says what's left is the bare minimum - teachers. Felix says he hates having to let such valuable employees go.

Mr. JEFF FELIX (Superintendent, Bonsall Union School District): It feels horrible. To go in and to say that we no longer need your services is wrong because we do need their services, we do need these things that are being cut off. But we are left with a predicament that our state government has put us into that is impossible to overcome.

KAHN: What the state has to overcome is a 16 billion dollar deficit. To close that gap Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered a 10 percent cut to all state departments. This month pink slips went out to 20,000 teachers, librarians, school nurses and counselors. Schwarzenegger says he had no choice, and hopes lawmakers will pass his budget reforms, especially setting aside a reserve fund for lean years. But state superintendent of schools Jack O'Connell cutting nearly five billion dollars out of the education budget is not a solution.

Mr. JACK O'CONNELL (California State Superintendent of Public Instruction): The governor likes to say that we have a spending problem. I believe we have a problem with our values, and our problem with our priorities as a state.

KAHN: O'Connell says the state prison budget should be cut more than the schools. While Sacramento politicians fight over just who and what gets cut, advocates are trying everything to rally the public to their side.

(Soundbite of music)

THE ANGRY TIRED TEACHERS BAND: (Singing) Cuts hurt, cuts scars, cuts wound...

KAHN: A group of educators calling itself The Angry Tired Teachers Band is traveling the state on a union-sponsored bus tour. Bay Area students have posed for pictures in trashcans to protest the cuts, and non-profit educational foundations, usually in more well-to-do districts are pleading with parents to write checks.

Unidentified Woman # 2: OK, let's talk about silent - silent auction. Who do we have here?

KAHN: In southern California at the offices of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Education Foundation 20 parents finalize plans for their annual school fundraiser. This year president David Wagman says the foundation is asking parents to dig deep. He's trying to raise an additional 1.2 million dollars to save the jobs of 60 teachers.

Mr. DAVID WAGMAN (President, Peninsula Education Foundation): Rather than hope the state legislature and the government will put their heads together and solve our problem for us, we felt like we had to take matters into our own hands.

KAHN: Wagman says the group is very close to making its goal. He says time is of the essence. While lawmakers battle over the budget, some of his best teachers are being recruited by other districts.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.


California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger upped the ante in the budget fight last night. He said the state deficit could go as high as 20 billion dollars by July of next year. Stay with us on Day to Day from NPR News.

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