Friday, February 20, 2009

Teacher opinions on the budget cuts

I’m alive and intending to comment on many education related things in the legislature, but I’ve made that promise before. So I’ll shoot for being tentatively optimistic about the probability of posting regularly. My first post in a long while will just be lost in a Buttars blogstorm today anyway, but here’s my perception of teachers’ perceptions. I regularly interact with small numbers of teachers from other districts, as well as my own school and district.

First of all, teachers aren’t really discussing anything regularly. The budget comes up frequently in passing, but it seems like some storm you just sit back and comment on, rather than take an active part in. Sadly, I would still broadly estimate that most teachers don’t actually keep close tabs on what’s going on in the legislative session—I’d say 70-80% couldn’t name more than two broad education issues they saw on the news...and my estimate could likely be low. They hear about big issues that affect teachers through the grapevine, but day-to-day stuff and American Idol or Biggest Loser are discussed much more than the legislative session.

As I said, the fact that the budget is bad and that cuts are coming is frequently discussed, but much more on the local “How does this affect me?” level than the global “Philosophically, how should the legislature approach and prioritize cuts to programs?” level. We’ll be discussing plans for next year on a department, school, or district level, and it will come up that anything we plan might be cut.

Painting with some broad strokes, I’d say teachers are generally very grateful to be employed at a time like this. There’s not a lot of griping right now, but those near retirement are worried about their 401k’s, healthcare, whether they need to stay for more years, etc. The rest of us are worried about class size increases, probable cuts in money for supplies, and cuts in aides—especially special education aides—and other classified employees like trackers, math lab employees, etc. I haven’t heard much discussion of the possible furlough, but I think it would largely be perceived as fair in a bad situation.

Personally, I wish I’d posted this a few weeks ago, because I generally supported the legislature’s pessimistic assumptions of 15% cuts as realistic. I wasn’t surprised at all to see the figures come in even a little worse than that Tuesday. I support a balanced budget and fiscal responsibility by government. I was pleasantly surprised by the lesser cuts and backfilling for public education in the budget for this year. The cuts have been extremely reasonable and I am grateful.

I’m internally conflicted with ranking public ed. among other important priorities, especially higher education. Public K-12 and state higher education are different administratively by tradition and necessity, but it’s really all part of the same end societal goal—a stepping stone provided for all citizens to enable them to seize opportunities through education. I also am concerned about courts, prisons, and human services.

I’m fine with holding the money from both Rainy Day funds until the 2010 budget IF it is actually used. (I think legislators may have gotten unfairly beaten up over the Rainy Day money.) I’m fine with spreading the fund out over 2 to 3 years because as I said, I think the economic downturn really may last a few years, but using ¼ to 1/3 for next year’s budget would fulfill the exact purpose of the funds as I understand it—to preserve crucial programs during a time of budgetary stress. I don’t believe there will be a “rainier” few years in the near future than the next three years. I think the rah rah stuff coming from the economic chambers and realtors, and statements to the effect “It would all be OK if everyone just wasn’t so negative” is BS. I think we’ll just have to weather difficult times, but class sizes are getting worse.


Cameron said...

Any thoughts on SB48?

UtahTeacher said...

Hi. I'll try and post on it. Quick version is that I and many teachers have mixed feelings on this bill, but I think the amendment eliminating elementary teachers from the non-certification makes this much more palatable. The bill may end up being OK, despite being informed by Sen. Buttars' negative view of teachers.