Teachers and administrators will be among the biggest casualties of the budget crisis at the Los Angeles Unified School District, but the elimination of funding for certain activities and programs that accompany the personnel shortages will also leave a void throughout the district.
For many schools, the loss of funds can be measured in a variety of ways ó cutting back on field trips to museums, the elimination of an arts program, the departure of a favorite teacher or an increase in the size of a classroom.
More and more, parents are working to fill those spaces that are becoming commonplace at some schools. They are on the front lines of an educational revolution that has seen them increasingly step into the vacuum that has been created by a $718 million budget shortfall.
At the same time, they are demanding more accountability from their state legislators and school officials, and Westchester parents have embarked upon the uneven and contentious road toward academic liberation, with self-governance as the ultimate goal.
In a series of interviews with parents at several local schools, The Argonaut has learned how many are filling the gaps that the school district has been unable, and in some ways unwilling, to fill due to constraints on its budget.
Through silent auctions, partnerships with local businesses and old-fashioned bake sales, the role of many parent groups has evolved from volunteering on school field trips to raising funds to update a school library or pay for a teacherís aide.
At Coeur díAlene Avenue Elementary School in Venice, concerned parents, in conjunction with business organizations, have raised funds to update and expand its library, pay for teacher assistants and a new playground. In addition, many of them take turns as hall and playground monitors.
ìWeíve raised (approximately) $100,000 for our school for a variety of needs,î said Heather Kahler, whose daughter attends Coeur díAlene Avenue. ìWe love our teachers and our school, but sometimes we feel like weíre being squeezed and unappreciated.î
Sherry Curreri, vice president of Coeur díAlene Avenueís booster club, admires the dedication of her fellow parents to their childrenís education.
ìBy the end of the year, nearly all of the parents at our school will have donated their time in some way to our school,î said Curreri, the mother of two second- and third-grade students.
The Westchester/Playa del Rey Education Foundation has been providing school supplies to teachers at Westchesterís seven schools for the past three years. The foundation asks teachers, administrators and students near the end of the year through surveys for a ìwish listî for their classrooms, and in the fall before the first day of school, foundation members purchase and deliver the supplies to the schools.
ìThe supplies are symbolic of our understanding of the teachersí needs for their schools and of our listening to them and appreciating them,î said Kelly Kane, the organizationís president and a leader in Westchesterís academic reform effort to gain autonomy from the school district.
Like Kahler, Kane said she feels frustrated at times with the LAUSD bureaucracy, which sent approximately 9,000 termination letters to its employees last month.
ìWhen youíre asking parents in public schools to raise funds for basic needs like pencils and paper that are mandated by the state education code, that really says a lot about how LAUSD is being run,î Kane said.
Other parents are finding creative methods to help their neighborhood schools. A Santa Monica couple, Joel Cichowski and Claudia Reisenberger, thought of a way that they could save a language arts program that was on the chopping block at their daughterís school, Ocean Charter School in Del Rey, due to budget cuts.
They decided to donate their economic stimulus checks that the federal government issued last summer to the school in an effort to save classes that were in danger of being eliminated and encouraged other parents to follow their lead.
The idea to donate their stimulus checks came to Cichowski, an architect, after a school board meeting where parents learned that reductions to their budget would be implemented.
ìIt was a very grim meeting,î he recalled. ìWe had been brainstorming about what we could do, and when the budget cuts were announced, we decided that we should do whatever we could to help our children.î
ìThis really was a last resort effort for us,î added Reisenberger, a public artist. ìThe budget cutbacks have been very detrimental to many of our special programs at our school.î
Local principals welcome the efforts of parent groups, which they believe makes their job a lot easier.
ìParents at our school work tremendously hard,î said Dr. Rex Patton, the principal at Coeur dí Alene Avenue. ìOne of our biggest expenses is teaching assistants, and through their efforts, we have been able to hire several assistants for our classrooms.î
Parents at Beethoven Elementary School in Mar Vista are also taking matters into their own hands in order to see that theirs and other children receive a well-rounded education.
John Ayers, who helped organize a protest on March 13th against LAUSDís issuance of the layoff notices, said that he and other parent volunteers have seen Beethoven grow academically in recent years and chided district officials for actions that he says can be devastating to the school.
ìWe are parents united as advocates for our children. We understand that there will be cut backs… just donít punish those
schools who have had success,î he said.
Kahler, a childrenís animator who is a graduate student in Loyola Marymount Universityís teaching program, has written to President Barack Obama, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and LAUSD school board member Marlene Canter to tell them how the budget crisis is affecting parents and their children.
ìEach year we get more and more taken away from our kids. It is shameful,î Kahler, who hopes to become an elementary school teacher, wrote.
Curreri said that Coeur díAlene is succeeding because of a concerted team effort that involves administrators, parents and its business and nonprofit partners.
ìIt has been a total community effort,î she said.
Patton feels that parents often donít get the recognition that they deserve for the amount of time that they give to the school, but he is grateful to have volunteers that are taking on an extended role in a time of deep and painful budget reductions.
ìOur parents have played a very large role in helping to make Coeur díAlene the oasis that it has become for our children,î the principal said.