Driving by a Sonoma County school, you might hear happy recess sounds and see children running across the playground. Then the bell rings, the students line up to go inside, the door closes and work begins.
But inside our Sonoma County schools, you won’t see the school that you remember attending. That’s because today’s public schools have lost more than 20 percent of their funding since 2007. On top of that, the money the state has allocated for education is being paid through a system of delayed payments, which means that schools are only receiving 60 cents for every dollar promised to education for a given year.
Behind the doors of our schools, you’ll discover that there are no new textbooks for students — and none will be available until 2017. Students are spending less time in the classroom because the academic year has been cut. On average, there are now five fewer days of school than in the 2007 school year.
The shortened academic calendar is expected to be the norm until at least 2016. Today’s students are missing out on 45 days of school — five days per year over a nine-year period — which means that every one of our children is losing classroom instructional time equal to one-quarter of a school year.
Classes have grown larger, and many teachers are responsible for five or more additional students in their classroom. The impact? Students are receiving less individualized help if they are having trouble grasping a new concept or learning a new skill — or if they are ready to advance to new learning ahead of their classmates.
School nurses, librarians, music and vocational teachers, counselors and other staff who used to provide essential support to students have lost their jobs or seen their hours reduced.
School buildings and grounds are in need of repair. Funding for building maintenance has been reduced or eliminated. Purchases of technology, infrastructure and equipment needed to help prepare college- and career-ready students for the 21st century have been repeatedly delayed.
For students needing extra help learning to read or missing credits for graduation, there is no after-school or summer program that will give them the instructional support they need to succeed.
This is the way California is educating its students today.
Sonoma County schools have done a remarkable job in these circumstances. Our county’s students continue to score well above state and national averages on standardized achievement exams. More than 80 percent of our high school graduates advance to higher education at community colleges or four-year universities. More than 75 of our schools have earned recognition from the state for the high quality of their academic programs.
But the financial stress is taking a toll that you can see when you enter our schools.
As educators, we ask for your support to help ensure that Sonoma County is a place where families want to raise and educate their children. Join us in the effort to strengthen school funding by supporting the state tax initiative to restore California schools.
Claudia Frandsen is president of the Sonoma County Association of School Administrators and superintendent of Cloverdale Unified School District. Jeff Reed is president of the Sonoma County Educators Council and a history teacher at Windsor High School.