Schools across California are in trouble as pension woes mount

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Schools across California are on increasingly shaky financial ground. The state has long been struggling with pension shortfalls in its CalSTRS teacher retirement system. With no viable solution in sight, underfunded pension programs are beginning to dip into school budgets, forcing draconian cuts to those most in need of the extra services that money provides, such as subsidized breakfast and lunch. Experts agree that all is not lost, but the state is quickly running out of time to find an effective solution that will not cause great hardship to the millions of children who rely on public education.

Powerful unions created the problem

Most experts agree that the root of the current budgetary crisis being seen throughout California's public schools is, at least in part, the result of a pernicious combination between Democratic-led governments, on both the state and local level, and the state's powerful teacher's union, which has been generally unwilling to compromise on benefits for its members. This has resulted in many districts, in order to cover current liabilities, being forced to increase the amount of money taken from current employees' paychecks, even amid drastic cuts to local school districts' budgets.

While not all school districts are at imminent risk of a budgetary catastrophe, a recent report made clear that the majority of California schools are staring down the barrel of a future fiscal crisis. The report found that most of California's public schools will need to begin making severe operational cuts within three years, if current pension terms are not renegotiated and big hits accepted by the teacher's union.

But some school districts are feeling the squeeze right now. In San Mateo County, the San Bruno Park district has been declared to be in a state of financial crisis. It is currently running a deficit equivalent to 10 percent of its total budget. Children there have seen services cut. These have included some bus routes as well as free lunches. Unfortunately, many of the children attending the district are in the lower income brackets and are the ones most affected by budget cuts. The district is planning on cutting over 100 jobs, leaving its schools poorly staffed.

Throughout the state, the extreme cuts seen in the San Bruno district are poised to take place at many more districts. With pension liabilities now exceeding 25 percent of payroll costs, the teacher's union may finally be forced to come to heel, at risk of the total collapse of public education in the state.

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