In an effort to understand the Jefferson County Public Schools budget crisis, I believe I may have stumbled onto a solution. Most of the district-promoted suggestions for reducing the budget include relatively minor concessions by the district administration, partial to wholesale elimination of assistant principals and librarians, partial elimination of counselors, support staff, school secretaries, paraprofessionals, clinic aides, and of course, teachers. One of the suggestions netting a relatively large reduction involves “increasing class sizes,” which essentially means the elimination of teachers at the expense of the quality of our childrens’ education. The only other proposed budget reductions that net relatively large savings require teachers to give up income via several different methods.
When I look at blocks of information, I typically try to categorize things in various ways. This is usually very effective in my working life, but is, I am sure, some form of yet-to-be-diagnosed psychosis, as I still like to organize my M&Ms by color. Nonetheless, as I studied the 110 suggestions presented by Jeffco, I created a quick table to analyze these suggested savings, creating columns to track who it is that would be paying for them, i.e. who must sacrifice something. It became clear that the district expects that the majority of the budget reduction should be paid for via sacrifices made by teachers and the students themselves. This seems ludicrous to me.
If you have ever attended a Jeffco Public Schools budget workshop or community forum, you have probably heard someone boast about how the school buses drive more than the circumference of the globe every day. Yikes. That is not something I would brag about. But, there it is. The light bulb went off above my head. Park the buses. Fire the drivers, mechanics, schedulers and anyone else involved in transportation. Sorry folks — but it is only temporary. Bam. $22 million per year is saved. No more fuel and oil purchases. No more maintenance costs. And who pays? Not the students. Not the teachers. The parents do. These parents are, like me, property owners, taxpayers, and most importantly, they are voters. No buses means parents and kids need to figure out how they will get to school. Carpools, bikes and walking will be good short-term solutions until these newly-inconvenienced voters figure out how to raise funds to get the buses rolling again. And, if they do not, then sell the buses and gain even more revenue for the district.
For even further savings, consider the following: The school district has spent a great deal of time and community energy recently exploring the consolidation of several schools, mostly involving the elimination of temporary trailer classrooms which would require moving sixth-graders to middle schools and other students to schools farther away from their homes. Not only would these community-altering changes impact only a tiny percent of the budget shortfall, there would be enormous unintended consequences of increased busing costs. The miniscule savings generated by eliminating the temps would be eclipsed by a many multiple increase in the annual cost of busing those students to their new, more distant school. The push for school consolidation is clearly misguided, and would only exacerbate the bus cost problem.
We, as a society, agree to pay taxes for the purpose of educating our youth and thereby benefiting our collective future. Arguably, the teachers are necessary to provide that education. And certainly, the students should and the quality of their education should not be made to suffer the consequences of this budget crisis if it can be avoided in some way. Therefore, I would prefer to see the budget reductions paid for by some other cross-section of the community. There is no mandate that a school district provide transportation to and from schools. And, in my opinion, parking all of the school buses for a year or two would create sufficient savings that none of the other proposed reductions would be necessary.
Glenn McWilliams is a Littleton resident.