Public School Budget Cuts. What Should a Parent Do?

Last Tuesday evening, a special PTO meeting was called. A representative from our school district came to speak about next year’s budget. Sadly, only 13 parents, including me, showed up.

I knew the budget situation was bad. In December, they cut this year’s budget the first time. It meant cutting back on buying supplies for the rest of the year. So we’ve been receiving monthly newsletters on pink paper, instead of white. No big deal. The next budget cuts happened in March. I believe 5 days were cut from the school year. Three of them were days students attend school.

Next year is worse. Much worse. Next year’s budget for our school district is expected to fall somewhere between 2.9 million and 4.8 million short of the current year’s initial budget (before the December and March cuts). The district representative gave us a picture of what kind of cuts would have to be made to achieve the worse case budget scenario:

  • 47 school days cut OR
  • 80-94 Teachers cut OR
  • 20% of the eligible budget cut (supplies, etc)

We were told that next year they’re looking at a variety of scenarios, including going to a 4 day school week (but keeping the length of the school year), going to a shorter school day, or going to a shorter school year. Regardless of what happens, our district will be below the 180 days required to meet educational standards.

As a parent, I’m not happy about this, obviously. I take issue with a state government that funds education last instead of first, when they meet to discuss the budget. I take issue with a school district that spent it’s buffer down to 2% of the budget, when the recommended buffer is 5-8% of the budget. They banked on the fact that the 2009-2011 biennium was supposed to be a banner year for the school budget. They were wrong, and now the kids will pay the price.

Most importantly, I’m not happy with the education (or lack thereof) that my children would get next year. I know the teachers would do their best. We’ve had extremely good experiences with all the public school teachers my children have had. They go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure my kids get the education they need.

But there comes a point where I worry that even the most brilliant and dedicated teachers can’t make up for increasing class sizes and decreasing school hours. And I’m not sure I want my children to be guinea pigs in such a dismal school situation.

So that leaves me with a dilemma. I have three choices. I can continue to send my children to public school, praying for the best. It goes without saying that I would be involved in their schools. I already am.

I could homeschool. I’d obviously have to work out a schedule to where I could teach school, keep up the house, and keep up this blog (being as my blog pays some of the bills and helps us pay down debt). Fortunately my husband gets home shortly after lunch and could pitch in, if we went this direction.

We could send our kids to private school, if we can work out the finances. It would be difficult, as it would cost about $800 a month for both kids to go to the local Christian school. Again, I’d be involved in the school. But the amount of money spent on school would take a serious bite out of our debt repayment plans, if we can swing it at all.

After much thought and prayer this week, I know which direction I’m leaning, though no firm decisions have been made. My husband is on the same page. But I’m not going to tell you, because I think hashing out the decision makes for a good discussion. :) I promise to let you know when we’ve made a final decision.

What would you do, if you were me? And if you know a public school teacher, tell them you appreciate them. All schools are going through hard times right now, and it’s especially stressful to be a teacher.

Photo by calculatOr.


By , on Apr 27, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. Adam:

    I’m not aware of any correlation between $x spent per student and the student getting higher grades, ACT scores, or doing better in college then another student. I don’t know about the specifics of your state, but in my state (Mississippi) Over 65% of the state’s budget is spent by the Dept. of Education. It was 2.2 Billion dollars last year. The state even has a formula called MAEP (Mississippi adequate education plan) to determine how much to spend on each child.

    I think the largest problem is there is a lot of waste in school spending with administrative costs, people high up wanting new furniture, after school activities, not enough school consolidation, etc. A previous GF of mine was a middle school math teacher, and let me tell you how much that sucked. She would get a $250/semester budget for class room supplies and with that she had to buy posters, chalk, paper, etc. She worked in a mostly minority school because she only had a couple of years of teaching experience, so most of the kids were so poor that when they would come to school, they wouldn’t have any paper, pencils, etc. Once a month she’d go to walmart and spend out of her own pocket to buy paper and pencils for them.

    Another option instead of private schooling is home schooling.

  2. Lynnae:

    @Iva – I am so thankful for people like you. My daughter received speech services for a long time. I was an instructional assistant for the preschool special ed program in my county, before I had children. It’s not an easy job.

  3. In response to “Kristy @ Master Your Card”:

    What About Socialization?
    Why We Homeschool: Socialization
    HSLDA: Socialization? No problem!

    Just wanted to clear up a misconception. :-)

    I’m so sorry you’re in such a tough position, Lynnae. If it were me, homeschooling would be our only option, I think. We are blessed here in my hometown that we have a local charter school that has a once-a-week homeschool program that makes it a point to help parents like me do a good job. They teach us how to plan, how to file any state paperwork, how to keep records, etc. And, the kids get to go to a “real” school once a week, where Art, hands-on science, language arts, and PE are all covered. They’re working on getting funding to add music, but we don’t know how that will go.

    It’s really cool, and I’m really looking forward to having the help and support I need to make sure I’m doing right by my kids.

    I’ll send a prayer up for you tonight. :-)

  4. Lynnae:

    @Rachel – my experiences with my kids’ teachers have been pretty positive over the years. Teachers work hard in limited circumstances, and they really do care about the kids. Thanks for all you do!

  5. Lynnae:

    @Robert Johnson – I totally agree with you. I about choked when I heard the district rep say they had spent the budget down to the last 2%, banking on a great 2009/2011 biennium. How irresponsible is that? I think that was the moment I knew we needed to get the kids out of the public school system. If they can’t manage their budget effectively, how am I supposed to believe they will teach my children? It flows from the top down, you know?

    We thought about looking into finacial aid at Grace, and I’m sure we’d qualify for something. I think we’ve decided to homeschool for the time being though. We’ll take it a year at a time, and if the kids ever go back to school, it will probably be at Grace or Cascade Christian. Jim has a great affinity for those schools.

    I also get the feeling everyone is going to a 4 day week next year. They kept saying it wasn’t decided, but it sounded like they were pretty sure and just waiting for Medford school district to make the first move. I think there’s going to be plenty of parental outrage over it. It’s just too bad only 13 parents showed up to the meeting to get a head’s up on the situation. I think people all around need to take responsibility, from the government, to the district administrators, to parents, who need to be more involved with their children’s educations.

    I’ll step off my soapbox now. :)

  6. I’m a teacher, and I appreciate the fact that you are recognizing that we are doing our best despite the short falls of the system!

  7. Robert Johnson:

    Have you thought about asking for financial aid at Grace or Cascade Christian? I think you would qualify and they will tell you how much aid you will get before you have to pay the registration fee. It is worth checking out. Also, some people work part time at the school. Because they work at the school, their kids get a discount to go there.

    The 4 day school week is going to happen in every public school district in Southern Oregon next year. They are going to go Tuesday-Friday and have longer school days. For families where both parents work, that is going to create a real hardship as they will have to find childcare for Mondays. Because of the fewer school days each week, longer school days (especially for elementary) and the cost of childcare, Grace and Cascade expect that some parents will send their kids to Grace and Cascade.

    As for the state funding education last, up until now education has always been cut less than other areas of the state budget. This year the state budget has such a huge shortfall that every area is going to get hit, including education.

    Many local school boards have been really slow to react to this crisis and have shown a real inability to make tough decisions now to minimize the impact on programs in the future. They are cutting no days this year but are going to have to cut 47 days next year? This makes no sense. I think they are trying to maximize the pain for next year in the hope that the outcry from parents will get them more money from the legislature. This stupidity and intellectually dishonest behavior just galls me.

    Any business facing a huge revenue shortfall would start making cuts now to minimize the impact. They would make cuts in the areas that would impact their business the least. School boards on the other hand seem to make cuts in areas that would have the most impact (school days and teachers), yet you don’t see them proposing to cut any administrators or other areas that would have less impact on students. They do this in hopes that parents will rise up and put pressure on legislators to give them more money.

    But this time the budget shortfall is so serious that it is not going to work and some school administrators are going to be exposed. They need to totally reevaluate everything they spend money on and figure out a way to make cuts that have the least impact on their “product”, which is educating children. When they start cutting administrators at the same rate they are cutting teachers then they will doing their jobs. Until then, things are going to get worse before they get better.

  8. School district (and governmental, though that’s another can of worms) budgeting sickens me.

    These so-called crises are really not crises at all, but represent a vast mismanagement and misappropriation of funds on the part of the school districts.

    All kinds of ‘pork’ gets written into these ‘budgets’ simply to keep the same amounts of federal or state funds coming in for future years use, and this type of greed adds up to a staggering waste of resources and a total misanagement of funds, funds that could have been redirected to other aspects of the budget (to guard against teachers and beneficial programs for the students getting cut, for instance).

    It’s a classic case of the district’s ‘lifestyle’ expanding to fit the ever increasing budgets. (How well does this method of ‘budgeting’ work on a personal scale, I ask?!)

    When economic crises occur in school districts, the overall mismanagement of the district funds rarely gets spotlighted (with those responsible getting fired), but instead usually results in focusing on their ‘solutions’ to the problem, which always involve cutting out the very things crucial to that which schools were intended to do…eductating the students.

    It is a greedy and lazy method of so-called budgeting often results in districts doing the easiest thing to ‘solve’ their budget crisis…punishing the hardworking teachers (who are severely underpaid professionals considering the import of their jobs and the cost of keeping their credentials current) that limp along with the ebb and flow of the budget decisions, and the students attending the schools suddenly having vital programs cut or being crammed more-kids-per-teacher into classrooms.

    Rather than admit to their greed and misappropriation of funds, school districts will always just cut out teachers when the budget falls short, because their salaries represent hundreds of thousands of dollars combined. Which, sadly, usually leads to pressure to ‘edge out’ those veteran teachers who have made numerous sacrifices to continue their educations and better their careers with further schooling and the resultant higher pay, because it’s easier to get two ‘green’ teachers than to pay for the price of the ‘expert’. The overall quality of education in the district often begins to suffer as a result.

    We are well-acquainted with this on every level, both as parents to a student in the system and with my husband being a teacher in our local school system.

    My husband is a teacher in a district that recently cut dozens of jobs. They’ve tossed around the 4 day school week idea (though their days would be longer to equal the same amount of overall hours) as being a great way to save on utilities and staffing necessary to keep the school running for 5 days a week. They try to say that if the entire district did this, it could be helpful to some parents, as well, as it might eliminate the need for after school child care for an hour or so as the longer school days would eliminate this need for many families.

    I’m not buying this. It’s the districts own greed and mismanagement that gets them into such crises (though it’s easy to ‘blame’ it on the economy of the State or Nation), and the only way they’ll ever get out of this vicious cycle is to be better stewards of their funding with good accountability. They should be forced to be 100% transparent in this with the local taxpayers, too.

    Taxpayer-led task forces should be permitted to go through campuses with a fine-tooth comb to help in figuring out every single way they can cut back on overhead expenditures.

    Many campuses have surplus materials stored away unusued. Many have perfectly usable desks and chairs, for instance, and yet purchase new just to keep using up available funds so that they will continue to keep getting those same enormous amounts of funds the following year. Incredible amounts are spent on updating curriculums, too, when supplemental booklets would be so much cheaper and better for the environment.

    Spending unnecessarily to keep using and thus ‘needing’ the higher budget funding for the next fiscal year is what ends up nickel and diming our districts to death, not to mention perpetuating a vicious and costly cycle.

    School districts would benefit from having to follow the same ‘tightening of the belt’ techniques that many of us hardworking taxpayers have to follow when times are hard. Maintaining what they have. Cutting out every extranneous expenditure before ‘punishing’ the teachers with pink slips and students with beneficial programs being cut or too-big class sizes. Teachers and programs are to school district budgets what housing and food are to the personal budget…vital and necessary to survival, and henceforth should be a priority in the budget.

    Everything from fields kept in grass year round (water-saving measures), appliances and computers left on overnight instead of turned off to avoid ‘vampire drain’ (power-saving measures), and insistence on things like phone logs to help cut down on unnecessary campus phone bills)…every budgetary expenditure should be examined and whittled down to bare-bones, with the priority being on supporting excellence in education and taking good care of what they do have.

    You can bet that if school districts weren’t guaranteed such an enormous amount of funding from year to year, and were instead told they’d get a guaranteed amount that was 3/4 or even 1/2 of what they currently had, they would get pretty creative in finding ways to stretch what they do have to make it work, and possibly even find it possible to save for the emergency funds and future growth and quality of education on down the road. The current system is largely broken.

    Hmmmm. It’s like living way above your means and never seeming to have enough money for what you need. Go figure.

  9. Lynnae:

    @Marci – Ugh. Sorry your district is so bad, too, though it’s not surprising. I’ve actually heard a lot of good things about 4 day school weeks, when the total hours aren’t cut. Our district is only looking at adding 20 minutes to the elementary school day, though, which means they still lose a lot of school hours. The school year won’t be extended.

    The four day week isn’t a certain thing, but they sounded pretty certain that we won’t have enough hours to meet standards this year.

  10. Jamie:

    I just think it’s good to stop and think about what the children would want. The kids might love their public school, friends, teachers, etc. They are the ones that actually have to go everyday. They might feel lonely or sad to all the sudden be taken away from that environment.

  11. marci:

    In our Oregon county, we are looking at the same problems – only our funding is mostly timber dollars – and with all the holds on logging now, we are not getting our funding, in addition to the state budget.

    One school in our county is already on a 4 day week – they had to switch in January. BUT – the total hours of schooling has not been cut. They are on a longer school day to make up the hours for the missing days. The savings is in shutting the school down an extra day, one day less of transportation, and a lot less hours by the non-teaching staff – such as aides, lunchroom, secretaries, janitorial, etc. The teachers seem to still be getting in enough hours by working one Friday morning a month for their planning sessions, thereby getting their full pay. It’s the other staff that gets the day’s pay cut.

    You CAN have a 4 day/week school and still get in the required yearly hours for students. I don’t know that that is what is happening in your district.

    If the school goes under hours for one year, it is not held against them. It is the 2nd year under hours that makes the school loose accreditation. I went thru this in a school where I used to work – 18 yrs I was in the non-teaching side of schools.

    Personally, I’d start them out in school and see how it goes. It might work out just fine. Give them a little extra on the side to challenge them. There are a lot of benefits to the extras that go along with public schooling. There are also a lot of negatives, I would agree also.

    If you decide instead to homeschool, look for a group in your area that gets homeschooled kids together for activities once or twice a month or so. Like for field trips, seasonal activities, and art activities, etc. Our county has such a group and it seems to negate some of the loss of social contact associated with homeschooling.

    Also – I think you’ll be surprised at how much less time it will take on your part for the kids to receive the same amount of schooling at home. Once you deduct travel, lunch time, recesses, and changing classes, there is a lot of time freed up. And a lot of the reading can be done by the child themselves.

    Good luck with whatever your decision is. In this state, it’s bad all over is what I am hearing. My local school district is looking at cutting 55 positions!

  12. Kelly:

    Your family has always sounded a lot like a “homeschooling” family to me, anyway. :) I agree with what some previous comments have said about homeschooling for at least a year or two, and then re-evaluating the situation. As someone who was homeschooled from 3rd grade to graduation, though, I would caution to make sure that the kids are involved in stuff through church and/or sports and/or dance lessons, etc. You don’t want them to be like 18-year-old me and find themselves in a college cafeteria, terrified that someone is going to sit down at their table and talk to them… and even more terrified that nobody will.

  13. Tiffany:

    Wow! I can’t even believe this! I am currently in school to become an elementary teacher and being an education advocate, this makes me very upset. Teachers can barely get everything in during a normal 5 day week, let alone having to cram a whole extra day’s work into 4 days. NCLB has ruined schools and made them all about learning the core basics (math, reading, and writing) and throwing everything else out the window. If you were to homeschool, I really hope that you’d consider bring back science, health, social studies, etc. into your curriculum. It’s so important for children to get a health education and so many schools do a one day lesson and that’s it…for the whole school year. Ridiculous. But I think you’re right — even the best teachers out there would more than likely have trouble getting everything in. If you choose to keep your children in public school, get really involved with their teacher’s. Stay on track with what they’re learning so you can co-op teach at home to ensure that they’re where they need to be. Volunteering in the teacher’s classroom (if you have the time) could be really beneficial to the teacher and save her/him time. You could maybe create packets, make copies, or anything else that would allow the teacher more time to prepare and teacher lessons.
    Although now is not the time to become a teacher (that’s what I keep hearing at least) I’m still empowered to keep on my track to become one. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and I don’t care if they “don’t make a lot of money” (they do, but they get a few months off with no pay, so it seems like they don’t) because that’s not what I’m going into teaching for. I want to inspire children to learn and become the best that they can be. It really makes me happy to see how concerned you are because there are so many parents out there that don’t care (or have no clue) what’s going on in their child’s school. Congrats to you for taking part in your children’s lives! I hope that I have parents that care as much as you do in my class (at least one every year would be nice). Good luck with your situation and keep us updated! =]

  14. I’m a special ed parapro (teacher’s assistant) and I saw the schedule for next year. They are cutting 2 minutes between classtimes, saying that five minutes is too much time for the kids to get to class. I wholeheartedly disagree.

    I’m currently in school getting my BS in Education/Special Education. I know I’m in for a frustrating career, but like many teachers, I sincerely care about students – especially those where private school or homeschooling isn’t an option.

    As far as YOUR decision goes, however, I think any choice you pick – as long as it works for you – would be a good one. My school is knocking around the idea of four day school weeks (year after next), but hesitate due to the fact that there are children in the school system who only eat when they’re in school – making three days, instead of two that these aren’t eating.

  15. Jenni:

    When my younger sister and I began school, we went to the private school connected with our religion. The teaching was so bad, that the next year my parents placed us in public school.

    This year, my parents pulled my youngest sister out of public school and placed her back into Christian private school. I can see a clear difference … instead of Molly telling me how bored she is during school, she calls and asks me for help on her homework or tells me about a fun project they’re working on.

    In both cases, my parents looked for the best education option (homeschooling wasn’t really an option as both my parents work). If you feel the public school teachers can provide the opportunity for your children to learn, despite budget cuts, keep them there. But if the private school offers better education, that $800 is a good price to pay.

    And of course, whether or not you homeschool your kids, stay involved in their education! (Lynnae, it definitely sounds to me like you do this.) Ask them what they’re learning, help them with their homework if they need it, and always encourage them to ask questions. Especially with science and math.

  16. Carolyn:

    As a public school graduate– and graduate of a district that was essentially bankrupt– I would encourage you to keep your kids in public school and teach them after classes.

    By watching my school struggle, it instilled in me a desire to change things and to get involved in local politics. I’m a college student now, but I still volunteer at the local public school because I know those kids need it.

    There’s a sense of community and exposure to new ideas you get in public school that you simply can’t get at a religious/private school or by homeschooling. Keep your kids at public school, but involve them heavily in extracurriculars and read, read, read to them.

  17. blossomteacher:

    I am a public school teacher (kinder,) and even without such drastic cuts in my district, I am planning to homeschool our children should we ever be blessed with any. Our public school system is just fundamentally broken, and geared towards the “average” child. Even as much as I try to differentiate, and I know that there are teachers who are way better than it than me, I know that is not the norm, nor is it how the system is constructed. Considering that your school is going to be in survival mode instead of instruction mode next year (and possibly past that,) I’d say go the homeschooling route. There are lots of good homeschooling blogs out there, so you wouldn’t be alone in your journey!

    Good luck!

  18. Rae:

    We’re holding our breath as my husband, a public school teacher, waits too see where the ax will fall in his district. He’s got a lot of things going for him in terms of classroom numbers and funding, but we’re still anxious. We have a back-up plan where he goes back to school for a two-year program and starts a new career and we live on student loans. Job cuts are supposed to be announced by May 15, and to be honest, I’m a little sick over it,

    I can’t tell you what I’d do. I worry about what rising homeschooling numbers do to the funding of classrooms. I’d worry that I wouldn’t be capable of giving them a good education on my own. I worry that the current administration won’t be able to deliver on their promises, and that loyalties will be to corporations and not to citizens, and that schools and teachers, some of the hardest working in the nation, will be what falls through the cracks.

  19. Angelsong:

    I think homeschooling is an excellent idea. You could involve the children in day to day activities, inside and outside the home as part of the curriculum. You would also have control of the learning environment for them, which is something not even the most hands on parent achieves with public school. There are many resources available online for homeschoolers, also.

  20. Laurie:

    Homeschool – definitely. We CAN afford to send our kids to private school – even with me not working – we homeschool instead. Months of curriculum research into private schools ended up in my conclusion that *most* (not all) private schools (other than the ones that cost $15k per year per child) are doing exactly what the public schools are in terms of curriculum with the addition of Bible classes. Additionally, it may take a year or two, but the private schools are going to have the same problems that the public schools are – out of work or underemployed people can’t pay tuition OR taxes. I’d definitely be asking the private school how many students have withdrawn in the last year b/c of $ issues and what will happen if more students are lost in the future.

    When you choose private school are paying to have have your child in a group of students who have parents who care. Parental involvement is one of the top indicators of successful educational outcomes, but I for one want actual BETTER QUALITY EDUCATION. Nothing makes that happen like a curriculum tailored for your child.

    If you are looking for all in one curricula, check out Sonlight – it is one of the priciest (I’ll spend about $1100 for 2 kids this year), but it is very easy to use and my kids love it.

    And you have the time to do this – though I’ll not say it is always fun. I’m taking 2 classes a semester, managing our 7 rental properties, homeschooling, the boys are each playing baseball and we’re active at church. I still have a clean house and the laundry done and I still read at least 1 book for pleasure each week and keep up with about 20 blogs. And what a great opportunity for your husband to be involved in your kids education!

  21. Chris:

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, but strongly recommend homeschooling if you can handle it and depending on your state’s requirements (I live in Nevada where we have *total* freedom once we send in our intent to homeschool form)).

  22. Janelle:

    Homeschool! We’ve been doing it for 6 years and love the freedom it gives us! Our kids test above their grade levels every year. They love the freedom to explore what they are interested in.

    Sure it has some drawbacks, but once you find a groove that works for your family, it is a wonderful way to live.

  23. Melissa:

    First I have to say it is beyond sad that so few parents showed up to the meeting. Hopefully if the school holds more budget meetings more parents will show – that’s a huge shame on them.

    I personally would keep the kids in public school and supplement at home as the others have mentioned. But then I am biased in that I have seen many kids homeschooled by people who have zero qualifications to do so. Not saying that is always the case by any means, but I do think that there should be more regulations in place (especially as this does vary widely). Private school would also have to be weighed for me. If you can swing it, then you’d have to decide. Then again I have two in day care so I probably could – though hopefully that won’t be the case. Then again the private schools have a wait list or have before according to other parents – sigh.

    I understand these times are not good and not isolated events. However, shame on that school district. Why do people like to budget every penny of a best case income? Uh – I don’t and don’t think that they should either, but that’s another topic entirely… Definitely something for you to consider at voting time.

  24. Lynnae:

    @Brian – If I’m reading the papers I received at the meeting right, this budget includes the stimulus money. Our schools are largely funded by income taxes, and given our state unemployment rate is 12% at the moment, income taxes are way down. Our county unemployment rate is around 14%, and I’ve heard of one county in the state where the unemployment rate is 20%. Things are bad in Oregon right now.

  25. Brian:

    I commented on a post earlier this year about the stimulus package and how it might save my wife’s job as a classroom teacher. It looks as though it might but thing are not certain yet.

    I have a question. Aren’t the school districts there getting part of the stimulus package to keep things running for at least two years? What is the status of this in your area?

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