School Music & Arts Programs To Survive At Expense Of Busing?

First the bad news: the state has cut funding for school busing. Now for the good news: the state has cut funding for school busing!
–proverbial joke

There is bad news and good news about funding for our local schools. But be assured the Pasadena Unified School District and the local media only will provide you with the bad news. The good news is that apparently music and arts programs may still be funded by PUSD but at the expense of eliminating school busing for “schools of choice” for disadvantaged students.

First the bad news, as far as PUSD and the cognoscenti in the local newspaper media see it. School busing has finally ended in Pasadena, not with a bang but a whimper. The Pasadena Star News reported on June 3 that state funding for busing “Hard To Serve” students to a “school of choice” instead of their neighborhood school has been cut by $180,000. The long, tumultuous, and futile saga of eliminating neighborhood schools by school busing since the 1970’s seems to be winding down in Pasadena.

Actually, the $500 million (half billion) in the state’s “Hard-To-Serve” school busing program was not cut, but merely shifted from a protected status to discretionary. It is now up to each local school district to decide if they want to spend their school funds on busing or teacher’s salaries, music and arts programs, school libraries, etc. In the past, busing, music and arts, school libraries, Indian Education Centers, and physical education were all protected programs that guaranteed full employment for bus drivers, music and arts teachers, school librarians, phys ed coaches, and Indian educators.

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) has recommended ending protections for such ancillary jobs programs and instead putting the monies into a “flex fund” where school districts could decide if they wanted to continue such programs. Eighty percent of school districts surveyed by the LAO have decided to keep music and arts programs and 90% have kept school libraries. Apparently this is coming at the expense of eliminating school busing. Apparently, PUSD is going to follow this state trend.

In the past school districts had to use their Hard-To-Serve transportation funds or lose them. This “use it or lose it” policy discourages school district from finding more cost-effective practices but serves to protect jobs for bus drivers and revenues for bus companies and may buy some votes for legislators to boot.

Now, for the good news. No mention was made by PUSD or local newspapers that on June 1st the state Senate passed S.B. 1381 which could provide PUSD with $2 million extra funds by no longer allowing school districts to enroll four-year old children in kindergarten. SB 1381 has been winding its way through the legislature since 2009, and now coincidentally after statewide school parcel tax elections, has the bill been approved.

By stopping the practice of enrolling 4-year olds into kindergarten the state will save $700 million, or $112 per student per year statewide. Multiplying that number by the 18,393 students indicates that PUSD could reap $2 million additional funding. This reflects about one-third of the funds recently sought by PUSD from a proposed school parcel tax – Measure CC. To put this in perspective, this is like passing a parcel tax on PUSD’s 59,000+ property owners for $34 per year. Only these funds were created from cost savings rather than coercive taxes.

SB 1381 was opposed by the California Teacher’s Association and was not supported by PUSD or the Pasadena Educational Foundation (PEF).

The bigger story thus far appears to be that PUSD may have decided to cut school busing for “schools of choice” and apply the cost savings to core classroom and teacher salary expenses. The budget cut to school funding is discretionary by PUSD, not mandated by any state cutback.

Stated differently, PUSD may have decided to continue funding for music and arts programs, school libraries, etc. but at the expense of school busing for “schools of choice.” But PUSD can’t tell you that because it would create the appearance of giving a priority to “alternative schools,” music and arts programs, and school libraries for wealthier areas at the expense of the disadvantaged. So the official spin by PUSD is to blame the state and taxpayers for the alleged cutback on school busing funding.

Evasion of responsibility and accountability is to blame others for something that is portrayed as mandatory when it is really discretionary.