Viewpoint: Our children, our community, our future
by Bob Fass
On June 2, Claremont Unified School District Superintendent Jim Elsasser sent a note to all district families that provided a cautionary glimpse into the future.
He wrote, “Simply put, we are told we could be facing the largest cut to education funding in a single year in the history of California.” There may be more government funding on the horizon to offset the cuts, but this is also an opportunity for our community to get involved.
Back in January, CUSD was anticipating a modest increase in state funding levels on a per-pupil basis, although declining enrollment could present a decrease in total revenue. Expenses were expected to rise at a rate higher than revenues, leaving district officials facing the possibility of deficit spending. Fortunately CUSD has maintained reserves in the general fund that could help bridge the gap for a few years.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s proposed state budget in the May revision signals deep cuts, up to 10 percent for CUSD, which amounts to $5.5 million. It is likely the final budget will be adjusted yet again once the tax revenues are known following the July 15 extended filing deadline. Federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act includes funding for K-12 education, but Claremont’s distribution is unknown pending state approval.
What we can predict is that it will not come close to matching the shortfall from cuts anticipated above. Other proposed legislation such as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, includes additional funding for both K-12 and postsecondary education, which is similar to the amount authorized by Congress in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Yet another hurdle of reopening schools in the 2020-2021 school year is the added costs associated with maintaining health and safety standards and operating a potential hybrid model that includes social distancing in classrooms and distance learning components for others.
Some of these expenses will be dictated by operating guidelines that are not entirely under local control. They will be determined by the governor and such agencies as the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the California Department of Education.
While these financial challenges will impact our children and our community next year and beyond, there are some steps we can take to mitigate the effects. The district is hard at work planning for continuity of instruction, health and safety of our students and staff, ensuring access and equity for all students. They must remain nimble and react to changing circumstances as they organize to meet the needs of our students while maintaining fiscal solvency.
As parents, grandparents, community members, business owners and stakeholders, we can play a role in other ways. For instance, in 2004 the Claremont Educational Foundation launched its Save Our Schools campaign, raising $600,000 in response to potential teacher layoffs and class size reduction.
My introduction to CEF was on March 14, 2010, almost exactly 10 years prior to our recent school site closures. At that time, I participated in March for Our Schools, which raised money in response to similar budget woes following the Great Recession. CEF’s mission “to protect and enrich quality public education in Claremont through community involvement” is more relevant than ever.
During these times, the entire community comes together philosophically and philanthropically to provide support and protection to its public schools. This approach may once again be necessary. CEF is meeting with the district on an ongoing basis to identify the most pressing needs.
I am also reminded of the great work of Claremont After School Programs (CLASP) that provides after-school homework help for struggling elementary school students. As we face increasing concerns about students falling behind, the need for volunteers and support services also increases. Volunteering time, effort and money is a great way to engage directly with our school children who need it most.
While the road ahead is likely to be bumpy with many unexpected curves, I remain optimistic, because together the resolve of our community is stronger than this moment in time. I believe we are united in our desire to support our children, our community and our future.