I don't get it. Will somebody please explain it to me?
Jacksonville's schools, which means Jacksonville's children, are facing $62 million in cuts, yet I don't see any public outrage. There is no clamoring in the streets and no shouts demanding that something must be done. All that people seem to be able muster is a barely audible sigh and a shrug. Don't people know how catastrophic a $62-million-shortfall will be, or just don't they care?
The district will be expected to provide the same services it did this year with 62 million fewer dollars—and this, as prices have risen—because the legislature has burdened the district with one unfunded mandate after another and siphoned more money over to charter schools. Could you do the same with considerably less money? Well, the legislature, and by extension us through our inaction, think it's OK that our schools and our children do.
Given the financial mess left behind by Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, one imagines he would have had some explaining to do had he stayed. Now that the state has tacked on mandates and allocated a mere 47 cents more per pupil, we're about to get in real trouble.
Let me describe to you what 62 million dollars in cuts is going to look like, and please don't think I'm exaggerating for dramatic effect. Dozens, if not hundreds, of teachers and support staff will lose their jobs. Those who remain will have their workloads, which are already daunting, increased. Programs like art, music, physical education and other electives will most likely see huge cuts. Class sizes may be expanded as field trips, extracurricular activities, most supplies, teacher training and after-school programs are cut to the bone. These are some of the changes your children and the district are facing if nothing is done.
In effect, education in Duval County will be conducted by fewer already-overworked teachers, doing more with less, giving kids fewer options. Is that the future you want for our schools and our children? Don't they deserve better?
Which brings me back to the part I don't get: Shouldn't people, specifically parents, be outraged by this? Why aren't they writing letters en masse or calling their elected officials and demanding a special session to increase funding to our schools?
This isn't eight years ago, when we had a massive shortfall during the Great Recession. Times are good, and the state is flush with cash, yet for some reason, Tallahassee won't properly fund our public schools. I ask you again: What is more important than our children? Well, other than football.
I submit that if the residents of Duval County don't demand that the Republican members of the Duval Delegation call for a special session to properly fund education, then the district should cancel the 2018 football season.
Every Friday night this fall, thousands of local children suit up and play the game of football, watched by thousands of fans, relatives, neighbors and friends and coached by hundreds of teacher/coaches; these games all cost the district money, and when you include all the other sporting events and classes, costs soar into millions and millions of dollars. These millions could be used to fund vital reading and after-school programs, to save teachers' jobs and a whole host of other things that will have to be cut if we stand idly by and nothing is done.
Let me be clear: I played sports in high school and I believe they have been and can be very important to the development of many children. Sports kept me off the streets and gave me purpose; I felt like a member of my community when I played, and I learned about core values like discipline and teamwork. I developed a work ethic by playing sports, because I knew if I wanted to be successful, I had to work hard. But I say with all sincerity: Cancel them all, cancel every single one of them if it saves the job of one art teacher or one music teacher, or if it allows a group of third-graders to have physical education instruction more than once a week.
I urge the superintendent and the school board to let the citizens and parents of Duval County know that before one teacher loses one more job, before we assign one class to have more than 40 students, or before we get rid of any art, music or physical education program, get rid of all extracurricular sports, including football.
This would be an unpopular decision, but leaders often need the courage to not just do the popular thing, but to do the right thing as well. Before jobs are lost and academic programs are impacted, extracurricular activities should be cut, because even though they're important and do serve a function, in the end, they're extra; it's right there in the word.
Nobody wants this to happen, but the school board, Jacksonville's teachers and students need the parents and citizens of this county to understand that there is a real disaster looming on the horizon, and parents must get involved before the impending financial crisis. We need them to let the legislature know it's not all right to continue to under-fund education. Likewise, we need parents to let Jax City Council know we want them to pass measures similar to those passed in South Florida and other places that are willing to invest in their children. We need parents to do it, because neither the legislature nor the City Council is listening to the people on the front lines and in the trenches of education: the teachers.
The fact that Florida is routinely at the bottom for per-pupil spending; when we factor inflation, we spend less than we did before the Great Recession. Let them know that we spent more on testing and mandated items than ever before, which meant we were heading for a disaster and, with a looming $62 million shortfall, I say that disaster is now here.
The legislature expects schools to get by on a meager increase of 47 cents for each child. That tells me they don't care about our students. But I must believe Duval County citizens and parents do; they just don't know how awful it will be. I must believe that, because the idea that they do know but just don't care is too terrible to contemplate.
It's time all Duval County citizens get it and realize how dire the situation is and understand that it will get fixed only if they stand up and demand that the powers that be—starting with Republican members of the Duval Delegation who all voted for the woeful funding, or rather the lack thereof—do something. We must be certain they understand that not funding our schools will no longer be tolerated.
Guerrieri is a longtime Duval County school teacher. He blogs at Education Matters.