People opposed to Initiative 42 like to speculate on the cuts other Mississippi state agencies may face if the Initiative passes, but they fail to see the cuts public schools live with everyday; cuts that are not speculative. Cuts in public school are a reality! K – 12 public schools have been steadily cutting their budgets for years! It is not uncommon for school districts in Mississippi to cut their budgets by as much as 15% to open the school doors to start the school year, cut the budget again at Christmas by another 10%, and then cut 5% in the spring to keep the schoolhouse doors open until May. While cuts to other state agencies are at this point pure speculation at best, there is nothing speculative about the present reality of cuts in public schools and the forthcoming cuts that will result if Initiative 42 does not pass. Many of our state schools are to the point they cannot continue to make cuts and keep the schoolhouse doors open!
The problem is that too many in the public are not aware of the financial struggles their community schools have been facing. Why should they be? School district superintendents, school boards, and the faculty and staff have always “sucked it up” and moved forward in the best interests of the children despite the cuts. The problem is they have “sucked it up” until the well is almost sucked dry. Unfortunately, as long as the school buses keep rolling, the lights keep flickering on in classrooms, and the football team and the band plays on Friday nights, the public will continue to believe all is well and good in “public school land.” However, financially, all is not good in “public school land!” Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s time Mississippians consider the magnitude of public school cuts and what those cuts will mean not only to their children but to their communities as well if Initiative 42 fails to pass.
As I have said elsewhere, with or without Initiative 42, Mississippi will continue to have school – at least for the foreseeable future. Whatever cuts happen in the public schools, few in the public will notice until those cuts begin to hit home. The public will not notice until family members who work in schools as assistant teachers, custodians, maintenance workers, clerical staff, and even teachers are sent home without a job because there is little or no money to pay them. The public will not notice until the local schoolhouse doors are closed and their children are bused across counties thirty or forty miles to the nearest school still open. And, the public will not notice there is a serious financial problem in public schools until the football team and the band stops playing on Friday night!
Unfortunately, most people in the public do not believe these things are possible. They take public schools and the education it provides their children, the jobs it provides people in their community, and the sense of pride it instills in their community for granted. They shouldn’t! If the public does not make public school education a priority by passing Initiative 42, these things are very much in jeopardy. Unless, the public demands their public schools become a priority in Jackson, they should expect major cuts in their community schools. Folks, this “ain’t no” scare tactic! If you think it is, take a serious look at the following decisions regarding your community schools that will need to be made if adequate funding for public schools is not addressed soon. This list is not speculation of the cuts that will need to be considered! These are cuts local school boards will have to consider unless there is adequate funding for education in their school districts.
Cuts the public can expect to see if community public schools are not properly funded:
- Non-certified personnel cuts: Although this list does not necessarily represent cuts in priority order, the first cuts usually made in a school district are in the area of non-certified personnel (non-teaching positions). Therefore, if there are assistant teachers in schools, they will probably be the first to be sent home without a job. Next in line to lose their jobs due to cuts will be cafeteria workers, custodians, clerical staff, and maintenance personnel, and any other non-certified positions;
- School Counselors cut: Although school counselors are already in short supply in most schools, without proper funding, you can expect to see school counselor positions eliminated in all but the wealthiest school districts;
- School Nurses cut: School nurses may be cut to one per school district, or none at all;
- School Security cut: In an era when school safety and security are a major concern, school security officers may have to be cut to one per school district, or cut completely;
- Program cuts: Districts will be forced to look very closely at course/subject offerings. Tough choices will have to be made about such courses/programs as foreign languages, visual arts, performing arts, choir, physical education, driver education, technology, vocational programs, and tutoring programs to determine which programs, if any, survive;
- Certified personnel cuts: Many districts will have to cut the number of teachers in their districts, which will result in more students in each classroom as well as reduced course/subject offerings;
- Extracurricular activities cut: Extracurricular activities such as band, show choir, and sports (football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, etc.) will have to be severely cut back or eliminated altogether. For example, school districts could save money by eliminating the purchase and upkeep of athletic and band uniforms and equipment. Money could be saved by cutting athletic trainers, and cutting back or eliminating band directors, football coaches, etc. Savings could be realized by parking athletic, band, and cheerleader buses. Many schools across the state will be forced to take hard looks at the financial feasibility of keeping extracurricular activities in their community schools;
- School Schedules shortened: The length of the school day as well as cutting schools to a four day week would have to be considered. By moving to a four day school week, school districts theoretically could save as much as 20% of their overhead costs such as utilities, transportation, food services, and salaries for both certified and non-certified personnel. Of course, such a move might also impact parents financially since they would need to pay for daycare services for younger children who would normally be in school;
- Facility decisions/cuts: There will be little new construction, and even basic maintenance needs will have to be cut to the bare minimum. This has already happened in many school districts, and will only get worse without adequate funding;
- Transportation cuts: (1) If extracurricular activities survive the cuts, the number of games and contests will need to be drastically reduced, thereby saving on transportation costs; (2) Without funding for transportation upgrades (new buses) and maintenance, double routing school buses packed to capacity will become the norm as buses are taken out of service without money to repair or replace them; and (3) To save on transportation costs, school field trips at all grade levels will need to be eliminated.
I am sure there are other school district cuts I am leaving out, but the point is, it is speculation at best to say state agencies will be cut 7.8% if Initiative 42 passes, but it is NOT speculation to say that school districts will have to make cuts, even dramatic cuts, if Initiative 42 does not pass – the cuts are already happening! Schools are expensive, but the impact of not adequately funding community schools will impact not only the education of our children, but the economy of our communities (loss of wages from shortened work schedules and layoffs), and community pride as well. The only protection against public school cuts and the devastation such cuts cause our children and our communities is to VOTE for INITIATIVE 42!
©Jack Linton, PhD November 2, 2015