Well, here it is—the midyear-budget-cut runaway train is gaining speed and headed toward San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). Fuck you—er, I mean, thank you, legislative Republicans who claim to love democracy but who, earlier this year, blocked voters from weighing in on extending slightly higher tax rates. I hope you get salmonella poisoning from your leftover turkey this Thanksgiving. And a festering case of pink eye. And colon polyps.
The impending doom isn't imaginary: There is no money. Well, there isn't no money. There's less than no money for education for the beautiful children in our beautiful city, where the negotiation for a beautiful football stadium still continues in the not-so-beautiful bowels of City Hall. (P.S. taxpayers: We also need a new City Hall.)
As usual, the exact financial state of our school district is ambiguous. Nevertheless, cuts are coming, and as district Superintendent Bill Kowba told Maureen Cavanaugh last week on KPBS's Midday Edition, SDUSD is preparing for them “in a very serious and deliberate manner.” After six consecutive years of cuts, SDUSD is steadying itself to slash an additional $25 million to $30 million midyear, which “means nothing but significant negative impacts on San Diego Unified,” Kowba said.
Kowba rattled off which limbs of the gasping education body will be hacked off at this juncture. The victims of the midyear massacre will likely include non-certificated employees like maintenance personnel, bus drivers, custodians, office staff and food-service workers. Certificated employees like teachers, librarians and counselors are safe for the moment, which is good because if we let 'em all go, it'll be Lord of the Flies on every campus in the city. But, hey! Schools could be rebranded as preparatory academies for prison, the one California institution funded beyond any parent's wildest dreams.
Also on the table is the possibility of shortening the school year by seven days, leaving parents scrambling. Teachers, meanwhile, will be forced to pack more of the standardized curriculum—you could draw a straight line between the enVision Math Program the state mandates and a kid who hates math—into fewer dreadful, droneful days.
Notably absent from the chopping block is standardized testing. Not only is cutting tests not an option; U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration would like to add more tests in the coming years. Who's the third-party candidate next year?
Isn't it interesting, given the enormous budget deficit and brutal cuts, that the district manages to afford to administer an obscene number of tests? Oh, mish-mash, never mind. Cutting tests is just crazy talk. Like, how would we even know if a student was learning without the thrice-yearly district-mandated benchmark tests? Certainly not by talking with a teacher. Or! Or! How is a child to learn how to fill in a Scantron sheet if she doesn't start in first grade? No. It would be ridiculous to stop the testing. Outrageous. Ludicrous. Preposterous. It would be anti-American.
In light of that, I thought up more reasonable cuts:
1. Cut P.E. Who needs physical education? With Congress declaring that pizza is a vegetable last week, kids are getting all they need to keep their bodies healthy. Besides, that precious 30 minutes spent in P.E. every week could be time better focused on test preparation.
2. Cut art. What's left of it, anyway. For two hours every six to eight weeks, my kid gets instruction offered through a hollow, district-created program called ArtWorks. It's a pathetic, watered-down version of what could be loosely related to art, if by “art” the district means a volunteer parent / teacher tells a child she's “doing it wrong” when she draws a circle for her head in her self-portrait. Everybody knows that heads are oval. Duh.
3. Cut air conditioning. This would only apply to schools that are actually allowed to run the air conditioning and not to schools like my daughter's, where classroom temperatures have been known to reach 100 degrees. Nothing creates a desire to learn like hours upon hours in a stuffy room studying vocabulary while sweating your 6-year-old balls off. Seriously. It's inspirational. Schools north of Interstate 8 should try it.
4. Cut all the busing. And I mean all; special-needs kids shouldn't get special treatment. The partial cuts of years past were a weakling move. Busing is for pussies. And poor, brown kids. Screw the pussies and the poor brown kids. Make them stay on their own side of town like in the old days.
5. Cut off the electricity. Require parents to send kids to school with their own flashlights and/or headlamps. Batteries will not be provided. learning by camp light might actually be kind of fun for kids, except fun isn't going to be permitted because:
6. Cut fun. Oh, wait. That's already been eliminated. There's no time during the school day to have any fun. No coloring in class. No running at recess. Flashlights and headlamps are strictly prohibited.
7. Cut creativity. Shoot. Wait a sec. There's nothing to trim there (see art class in item No. 2).
8. Cut critical thinking. If we could just administer every topic in a multiple choice, fill-in-the-bubble format, we'd be so far ahead of the budget cri—what? Oh yeah, right. They've already eliminated all curiosity-based learning in favor of bubbles, bubbles, bubbles.
9. Oh, well. Nos. 6, 7 and 8 wouldn't have a fiscal impact. Not now, anyway.
But later, not too long from now, our society will pay the price for every single wrong cut we made, and every single right one we didn't.