Parents Fight For School
Plan to prevent closure of PG grade school gets cold shoulder from district.
Thursday, April 10, 2003
It''s a little hard at first to hear Estelle Drozen over the whir of the mixer in the bakery of the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa where she works. But then it''s clear what she''s wants: $251,000--an amount that she says would prevent closing a school in Pacific Grove. Drozen says she is prepared to do whatever it takes to help raise the money.
Since Governor Gray Davis'' January proposal to take funding from school districts and use it to help balance the state budget--which faces a $35 billion deficit--schools in these so-called Basic Aid districts have had to plan to dice next year''s programs into tiny little pieces.
The fallout in Pacific Grove has so far resulted in 32 teacher layoffs, and a myriad of proposals to reconfigure the school district, including closing down one of the schools, for an estimated yearly savings of $251,000.
Drozen says the parents--who have already generated "massive letter writing campaigns," should be given a chance to raise the money themselves to keep all the schools open. Drozen and other parents have suggested a voluntary contribution of $120 per year to replace the Basic Aid money the state would take away. She says that the school board has been unresponsive to such ideas.
Drozen says $120 per student in a district that has about 2,000 students "would be a chunk of change.
"Parents all along have said if you give us the chance we can raise the money. I think the school board right now feels kind of attacked by the parents--I don''t think that''s the case--we just want to save the schools."
Debi Page, president of the PG School Board, says the decision to close a school is not final at this point, but given the proposed $3.2 million reduction in revenue for the district, and the need for the district to submit a balanced budget by June 30, the board must make some difficult decisions--including reconfiguring the district. Page points out that closing a school could allow some money for other programs in jeopardy--programs like music, PE, computers, drama, and advanced placement.
"To take away the discretionary spending that is over and above the mandated program for K-12 required by law leaves a pretty skeletal system," she says. "We have 72 items on the list that we are crying over ever since we got the news from Sacramento. It''s so comprehensive--it cuts out so many programs that we need. Say if in August we somehow end up with half a million dollars--we are still going to have to decide if keeping a school open is still top priority, or if keeping PE or a music program is the choice."
Page also questions the philosophy behind parents asking other parents to pay for a public education.
"We are a public school--we can''t require any payment from any parent. Nor would I want any parent who couldn''t afford to pay to feel uncomfortable," she says. "I would even question the legitimacy of doing that--is that even legal?"
Page--who has children in the district--says that parents are frustrated that the board is making cuts before the final decision from Davis comes through.
"I sense that there are people who are really upset, and I do understand that," she says. "I''m pretty upset myself. People keep saying, ''Davis'' not really going to do that''. I hope they''re right--but I can''t fulfill my responsibility on someone''s hope or hunch."
Susan Nine, co-president of the PG Teacher''s Association, concurs with the idea that a small fee for attending public school is worth considering.
"If we closed Robert Down Elementary--we would have the kindergarten all alone, and then other grades all crammed at one site--it would create some really horrific conditions for the children," she says. "$120 doesn''t seem like a lot compared to what it costs to go to private schools."
Drozen says that even if the board has to close a school, they aren''t informing parents about the funds needed to reconfigure the district.
"The board is planning for something that might not even happen," Drozen says. "Although I realize they have to prepare for the worst, in all cases they don''t really talk about what it''s going to cost--it''s not like it will be a free skate."