Moral Low Ground


Brand New $105 Million California High School Sits Empty Due to Education Budget Cuts

June 23, 2011 by Brett Wilkins in Debt, Economy, Education with 0 Comments

Times are hard for California schools. So hard, in fact, that a brand new $105 million high school sits empty and will remain that way for at least a year because education officials don’t have enough money to operate it.

Such is the fate of Hillcrest High School in Riverside, built to relieve overcrowding in nearby Sierra High School. According to USA Today, 3,400 students are crammed into Sierra, sometimes 37 to a classroom. But operating Hillcrest would cost at least $3 million this school year, money the district just doesn’t have. Built in better economic times, keeping Hillcrest shuttered means teachers won’t have to be fired at other schools.

“When the California budget goes down and income in the state goes down, K- through- 12 education goes with it,” Wendell Tucker, superintendent of the Alvord Unified School District told USA Today. “We made a number of budget adjustments. Right now, we simply are out of adjustments, and it’s not feasible… to open this school.”

Many students were looking forward to attending Hillcrest, but now they’ll have to wait until at least 2012, and it’s not even certain whether the new school will open then.

“I wanted to go to that school,” 14-year-old Natalie Mercado told USA Today. “I was really excited.”

Tom Torlakson, the state’s Education Superintendent, called the Hillcrest situation “a shame.” But it’s par for the course in a state that has slashed a staggering $18 billion in K-12 education spending over the last three years and laid off 30,000 teachers. Per-student spending has fallen from $8,464 in 2008 to $7,358 this year. According to USA Today, California ranked 44th in per-student spending in 2010.

“Schools are having to make many decisions which are both unpopular and seemingly illogical,” Torlakson said. “They’ve really been pushed into a corner.”

State PTA president Jo Loss told USA Today that the Hillcrest case is “a particularly poignant example” of California’s declining public education system. “Parents are starting to see that their child is not getting the same education that perhaps their older child got,” she said.

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