Folks up in Sacramento should take a tip or two from the Manteca Unified School District.
Instead of playing games with numbers, Manteca Unified has gone through a gut-wrenching self-examination to determine what is expendable and what isn’t expandable given the reality of a $14 million budget shortfall.
They’re not making arbitrary decisions to waving empty phrases around such as “cutting salaries by 10 percent”.
The school board formed a 100-member budget reduction committee that represented a cross-section of teachers, classified employees, and administrators to devise a list of possible spending cuts. The district administration made sure everything was transparent.
The result is a list of recommended cuts that don’t cut too much into muscle. In some cases, they increase efficiency by suggesting the district take over special education busing that is now contracted out. Others eliminated things that in tough times must be considered luxuries such as shorter walking distances to school, and mailing report cards.
Some recommendations mean classrooms will be a bit warmer in the heat and slightly cooler in the cold months. And even the more drastic suggestions — closing elementary annexes if necessary — were examined against the big picture.
Along the way, rank-and-file educators who were unaware of some of the Byzantine rules that the state and federal governments imposed on programs learned why the district can’t “cut this” or “has to do things a certain way.”
They also found out the naked truth about school financing. If the district, for example, cuts class-size reduction it saves $400,000 and loses 130 teachers. Yet it the state decided to cut class-size reduction, they’d save $8 million and Manteca Unified would lose 130 teachers.
It sounds a bit bizarre to say, but you could argue the budget crisis has all the potential of making Manteca Unified leaner and meaner when things pick up by targeting money to where it is most effective. It is good to have such a thorough examination of how one spends the public’s money.
Manteca Police Chief Dave Bricker — under the shadow of a looming $8 million municipal budget deficit — eliminated two police officer positions and created three community service officer jobs plus switched six sergeant positions to six corporal positions. The need result was putting more police presence on the street and a net savings of $61,018.
It isn’t a first for the City of Manteca, either. For years, the city’s rank-and-file workers have done a Herculean job of squeezing dimes and nickels out of municipal budgets to operate more efficiently. The parks and the fact the number of workers needed to maintain Manteca parks per acre are the lowest in the region is just one example.
Sacramento has never undertaken such an exercise as Manteca Unified or the City of Manteca has.
Do we really need six or so agencies overlapping on various environmental regulations? Is there really a vital need for a solid waste board or the California Arts Council?
Does California need 50 or so county offices of education or can we get by with just a dozen or so regional offices?
State government is no different than those blinded by the “got to have” and “I deserve” syndromes that basically jettisoned delayed gratification and made everything that was a want a need. Many households — as they had more money coming in — had to have bigger houses, newer cars, and the newest electronic gadgets. It didn’t matter that the house was adequate, the car was running fine or that the TV was working perfectly. It isn’t the flashiest house, the shiniest car or a plasma flat screen TV.
Living within one’s means is essential.
Indebting future generations for our excesses — whether it is material things or financing a bloated government — is always justified as we like to think we are making a better life for “them.”
But who is fooling whom? It’s time to stop picketing, finger pointing, and whining about the painful end result of what is essentially excessive gluttony.
We are to blame for this mess, not whomever we define as “them.” We wanted the latest stuff. We wanted a government that took care of each and every one of our little ills. We wanted “free money.”
“Free money” has a price. And we are about to pay for it big time.