School of Education Budget Crisis Forum

Southern California educators, including teachers, administrators and counselors, struggled to remain optimistic Wednesday during a University of Redlands forum on the state budget crisis and cuts to public education.

The forum, titled "A Critical View on the Current California Financial Crisis in Education," featured a number of guest speakers and panelists, including:

  • Stuart Dorsey, a former U.S. Senate economist and current University of Redlands president;
  • ┬áKen Hall, a widely recognized expert in California public finance and school management;
  • Kent Bechler, superintendent of the Corona-Norco school district;
  • Susan Levine, superintendent of the Barstow school district;
  • Brian Block, an attorney familiar with school finance issues;
  • and Jose Lalas, director of teacher education at the University of Redlands and a member of the Corona-Norco school board.

Panelists acknowledged that cuts currently being made to California public education are deep – and painful.

"What we are going through is absolutely astounding," Hall told the audience, which included education leaders, teachers, interested citizens and university education students, among others. "No one would have been able to imagine such difficult circumstances."

Several panelists, including Hall, said they feel California educators have endured more than their fair share of cuts. Still, they said educators will soldier on, and children will continue to receive an education.

"We will go through these cuts and things will change," said Maureen Latham, assistant superintendent for the Beaumont Unified School District. "But one thing that will not change is that in August we will have children who come through the doors of our schools. We will need to provide them with a quality teacher with a sense of morale. We will need to have textbooks and facilities – all those resources that are needed. And we will make it right for kids, because we always do."

Block said it is important for educators and public education advocates to help inform the general public about the realities of the budget crisis, how it was created and what changes might be on the horizon.

"Unfortunately, when the cuts happen, there are going to be a lot of people who automatically blame the district," Block said. "That's unfortunate because I think the districts really are trying … we really need to help people understand how widespread this issue is."

Some systemic changes also were discussed, including whether California needs to change the way public schools are funded. The role of the federal government, and the idea that increased federal funding typically brings increased federal accountability requirements, also were discussed.

The forum was coordinated by Lalas, who said he decided to hold the event after talking to colleagues and students who felt frustrated about how to deal with the cuts.

Lalas said he still is perplexed about how to minimize how much the cuts hurt students in Corona-Norco, where he is a school board member.

"As a school board member, one of my biggest challenges is trying to understand why we are considering cutting this person, but not this one – why this program is being cut but that one is not," Lalas said. "One of my biggest questions is whether we have an evaluation of what services have the most impact on student achievement. I want good information on what works and what doesn't. To me, that is the best way to make these difficult decisions."

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