The state’s budget is shrinking. So how do you slash spending for public education and simultaneously establish world-class schools?
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The Earth, according to most astrophysicists, is doomed. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point in the future, an asteroid is going to collide head-on with our dear planet—and it won’t be pretty.
Indian River superintendent Susan Bunting knows the feeling, only her Earth is a Delaware school district, and her asteroid is a budget cut she knows is on its way but cannot yet see. “What would help us most at this point would be some kind of concrete figure, a worst-case scenario so we could start planning,” she says. “But right now we’re in no-man’s land. We just don’t know.”
Bunting has been here before. Less than a year ago, Indian River was anticipating a devastating financial blow. With a $600 million state budget deficit hanging over Delaware’s head, Bunting’s school district braced for a $4 million cut to its overall funding for fiscal year 2009. In the end, the General Assembly found a way to limit statewide education cuts to $30 million instead of the projected $80 million, and Indian River was spared the worst.
Instead of the expected $4 million loss, the district wound up with about $820,000 in cuts, saving nearly 1,000 jobs and dozens of programs. And while this monetary slash certainly left its share of scars, a collective sigh of relief went up through the ranks. The asteroid hit—but at least it was a small asteroid.
Even without dire economic forecasts, the state’s public school system—which ranks eighth in the nation for overall spending, but only 27th in overall performance—has been struggling to revise its approach to teaching Delaware’s youth. With the state economy trying to keep its head above water, the quandaries administration and legislative officials face have only become more complex.
“In education, we like to say there are some things that are interesting to know, some that are important to know and some that are absolutely essential to know,” says Bunting. “That’s kind of how we have to start thinking about the budget now as well. What’s interesting, what’s important and what’s essential?”
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