With the William S. Hart Union High School District facing $8 million in lost revenue next year, Superintendent Rob Challinor says he has grown weary of the annual budget battle.
“Certainly it’s an issue. Quite frankly we’re tired of facing each and every year. We need stable funding,” Challinor said.
He said the Hart District has come up $104 million short over the last four years. In Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal for next year, the district will be asked to cut another $370 in per-pupil spending.
“It’s just an unrealistic way to run a state the size of the economy of California and certainly with the expectations that are placed on all school districts to continue to do more with less,” he said.
Challinor is proud to say all the school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley have continued to demonstrate growth in student achievement with less revenue coming in. But staff and teachers are paying the price.
“In the Santa Clarita Valley, we’re victims of our own success. We continue to thrive in spite of what the government is doing to us with the lack of funding,” Challinor said.
And that means the public and legislators aren’t seeing the problem.
“When you look at the test scores, if they continue to rise, then some folks would say, ‘Where’s the problem? We’ve cut the budget and yet they continue to succeed, so is there really an issue here?’” Challinor said.
For students and teachers in the classrooms, the problem is obvious.
Funding used to be spent on reducing class sizes, which created a better student-to-teacher ratio for more individualized attention. Challinor said in the Hart District, the classes are maxed out with a 38-to-1 ratio in the junior high classes and 39-to-1 in the high school classes.
“We physically can’t put more kids in our basic classrooms. And when I say ‘basic,’ I mean our math, science, English, and history classes. They’re maxed to the point of they’re crowded. So how bad does it have to get? That’s bad enough as it is,” he said.
The consequence of further cuts will ultimately lead to the elimination of athletics, visual and performing arts and what Challinor describes as “enriching activities that make schools that well rounded opportunity for kids.”
Brown has proposed a ballot initiative to raise taxes to fund schools. Challinor isn’t sure where he stands on the issue until he sees how the final initiative appears on the ballot. What he does know is that the public and the legislators are not giving the funding issue the attention it deserves.
“It would appear from my office that nobody is really listening to what we have to say in terms of what’s happening to us at the local level,” said Challinor.
He said parents need to write their lawmakers and demand a voice in Sacramento.
“We’ve got to make these issues real to our state legislators. They have to understand that if California is going to continue to thrive as a state, they can’t fund educational programs near the bottom of the 50 states in the United States. Per-pupil funding has got to go up.”
Challinor believes if action isn’t taken, then come November, the public will need to make changes.