If you had a room full of parents of public school students and asked them how their district should be using state education funds and what individual schools need, what would they say?
For Benita Ayala, whose two sons attend public schools in Sacramento, the answer is "simple things" – like more janitorial staff and a school library that's open every day.
Ayala says she sees a lack of basic services at both of her sons' schools. She gives an example of one day recently when her son Christopher had to use the restroom, but the door was locked even though the bathroom wasn't occupied, and a janitor couldn't be found to open it; her son finally urinated on himself. At her other son's school, the library is only open certain days of the week, and her son can't always access the materials he needs.
She's also concerned about the current focus on technology-based curriculums, especially in Christopher's case. Christopher has special needs and his class includes children who are deaf and non-verbal, and she points out that the existing technology in the classroom is antiquated.
"How are they going to access that [kind of] curriculum?" she says. "We need to allocate funds more in developing educators that can relate better to different kinds of special needs."
At a community forum in Sacramento last week organized by The California Endowment, a health foundation, as part of what it's calling the School Success Express Tour, parents met with state and local education officials to give their input on how money should be spent in their school districts. The forums are being held in 12 cities around the state.
Over the next eight years in California, education spending will increase by $18 billion, and under the state's new Fair School Funding law (also known as the Local Control Funding Formula), schools and parents have more say in how the budget increases will be spent.
Erin Kelly Rivera of Elk Grove, whose son Morgan has been bullied at school, thinks that money needs to be spent on counselors and staff training so that teachers know how to deal with bullying.
When Morgan was in third grade (he is now in fifth), he was being threatened repeatedly by some other children. He told his teachers and the adults on yard duty, but "they failed to do anything," Rivera says. "He said nobody was listening."
One day, Morgan left the school property because he was scared of the kids who were bullying him. At the time, he was eight years old. The school responded by deciding to suspend him for three days; the suspension was rescinded when the family went to the local media with the story.
Rivera says that in the time since the incident, the school hasn't done much to help her son. He's still having a hard time socially. "He feels like he's not good enough," she says. "He says, 'People don't want to come near me.'"
"The school district needs to do more. When kids bully, it needs to be handled differently. There needs to be counseling for the victim and for the bully," says Rivera.
Nicole Brock, who works for St. John's Shelter Program for Women and Children in Sacramento, came to the meeting on behalf of the single mothers that the program serves. Her main concern is school buses.
The mothers who live in St. John's transitional housing while completing an employment readiness program used to send their children to an elementary school around the corner from the housing complex, says Brock. But to cut costs, Sacramento Unified has recently closed several elementary schools, including the school that was nearby. Now those kids attend an elementary school that takes over 20 minutes to walk to.
"There's no school bus for the kids at the complex," says Brock. The children are young and must be accompanied on the walk, and the 40-minute round trip would cause their mothers to miss the shuttle to their employment program.
Brock echoes Benita Ayala's concern about focusing on technology while basic needs aren't being met. "We have to get the kids to school before we get them iPads. If we can't get them to school, that's a problem," she says.
The next community forum will be in East Oakland on October 21. For the complete schedule, visit TCE's website.