It’s that time of year in the Golden State when legislators argue about how to divvy up dwindling revenues against the wall of a multi-billion dollar deficit.
While legislators propose to raise or lower taxes, schools must still prepare budgets.
The regional occupation program, or ROP program, is being restructured at Inyo County high schools to try and accommodate the expected budget cuts. The most significant changes are coming to the largest school, Bishop High. These changes come amidst the State Superintendent of Schools declaring a fiscal state of emergency for the entire school system and an alarming uncertainty about future funding for schools.
The new structure for the popular ROP program saves some classes for students and preserves teachers’ jobs, but with the county superintendent passing the bill to the local school district. The change is also partially a response to state mandates.
Superintendent of School Terry McAteer spoke by phone Wednesday from the San Jose airport where he had taken 15 ROP teachers to look at other schools’ programs. He explained that the new program is designed “to ensure kids graduate with meaningful, marketable skills.”
McAteer explained that the program needed to be changed to meet new mandates and to secure funding, specifically through Assembly Bill 2448. The bill states that ROP classes must be offered in sequential order to receive funding and that the skills offered in the program be under the umbrella of an “employer advisory board.”
The superintendent’s office has done exactly that and is utilizing information drawn from surveys mailed to local business leaders. The following is the list of ROP classes to be offered to meet the needs of local employers.
Classes to be offered include accounting at Bishop; agriculture at Bishop and Lone Pine; automotive services in Bishop; business eMarketing and eDesign at Bishop; criminal justice and fire prevention at Owens Valley and Lone Pine; culinary skills at Jill Kinmont Boothe; energy systems (wind, water, solar) at Bishop; hospitality and recreational industries at Death Valley; medical assisting and certification programs at Bishop and Lone Pine; and entrepreneurship at all high county schools.
McAteer said neither students nor teachers were consulted on the restructuring.
ROP classes that used to be offered in the county included carpentry, commercial art computer applications graphics, multimedia and repair, drafting, fashion design, floriculture, graphics/journalism, photography, retail sales, video technology and welding.
Students, parents and educators have been questioning – the usefulness of skills geared toward the local economy and work force, when local employment opportunities are consistently scarce. Despite reporting their concerns to The Inyo Register, no single party was willing to be quoted or identified for this article.
McAteer, meanwhile, countered that the job skills offered will be helpful to any student in any area or region.
The new ROP classes will be offered to juniors and seniors only, with a year-long business and employee skills courses for freshmen and sophomores. This is the state’s definition of ROP classes. It has been Inyo and Bishop High specifically that have bucked the trend and offered ROP to all classes, until now.
Bishop Union School District Superintendent Barry Simpson said Tuesday that the district will continue to offer, as electives, those popular ROP classes that have been eliminated. These will be paid for, mostly, out of the district’s General Fund – for now. The cost to offer three visual and performing arts, or VAPA, classes such as photography, graphic design and fashion will be $110,000.
Simpson said he is still unsure exactly what classes will be offered as electives next year. He added that the VAPA classes are vital to the student body as they provide Fine Art requirements for college transfer. He said that McAteer has decided that some Fine Arts classes do not reside within the realm of ROP. Simpson said he was unsure where all students could obtain Fine Art credit without the VAPA courses.
With some districts, such as Big Pine, courses like band have supplied Fine Arts credit. But, Big Pine Superintendent Pamela Jones said it is easier to offer transferable classes as the attendance is very small compared to Bishop.
The results of the restructuring for Bishop and ROP staff are still unknown, as the district is still drafting a budget (another mandate) despite having no idea what revenue the state will promise, and even less certain, the actual amount the district will receive.
Simpson said that reserve funds will be used to curb lay-offs for the 2011-12 year, but cuts from the state are expected to grow exponentially.
Midge Milici, the district’s chief financial officer, said the most “crippling” thing about budgeting is the incredible uncertainty surrounding the amount of revenue from the state. She said it is not uncommon for the state to first tell the district how much money it will receive and when, and then send a different amount at a different time.
“‘We’ll send you the money when we feel like it,’” Milici said of the state’s basic attitude.
Of the financial situation being faced by all public schools in the state, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in January, “There’s simply no other way to describe it: this is an emergency. We have 174 districts teetering on the financial brink. If this isn’t an emergency, I don’t know what is. The law won’t let me call out the National Guard. So I’m saying to every Californian: ‘Your schools need your help. And they need it now.’”
The Bishop School District is expecting a cut of between $600,000 and $1 million, roughly 18 percent, according to Milici. She said cuts could double for the 2012-13 year if tax hike extensions are turned down by voters in June. In May 2009 voters rejected Proposition 1A, a measure that similarly sought to extend the higher tax rates.
Governor Jerry Brown is proposing tax hike extensions to try and close an expected $28 billion deficit.
Bishop Union has been able to weather past cuts, due in no small part to the additional revenue generated from the elementary and high schools unifying this year.
But, Milici explained, if the tax extensions are not accepted by voters, the district could be looking at a $600 per student cut for the 2012-13 year. Milici added that in the past several years, cuts to education have been the only state budget cuts that have been fully implemented.
Despite the potential loss of some classes, some educators are lauding the new structure.
Jones and BUSD Board member Carl Lind said that in the “long run,” the new ROP program will give kids the opportunity to learn marketable skills and job training.
Lind added that with any change there is always some doubt and question, but he said he believes the changes are in the best interests of the students – the goal of all educators and administration.
For more information about the ROP program, call (760) 873-3262.