Long Beach public education officials, community and business leaders gathered Tuesday in the Center Theater to discuss the state of education, as they hold their collective breath in anticipation of the results of next week’s election.
The day began with 200 business owners and community leaders who spent the morning getting an inside glimpse into what it takes to run a Long Beach school as principal, by participating in the annual Principal for a Day event — the largest single-day involvement of area businesses in Long Beach schools, according to education officials.
“Principal for a Day always will be a program I will continue to support,” said Randy Gordon, CEO and President of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve got to talk to more business people about taking more time to visit our schools. The work is so important.”
Keynote speaker Gregory Darnieder, Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education on the College Access Initiative, addressed the crowd about the progressive steps the city has taken to build successful partnerships directly benefitting public education.
“What’s happening here is institutional leadership that is genuine and trusted,” Darnieder said. “What we have here is 10 to 20 years ahead. I heard about the work going on here, and came out here two years ago.”
While President Obama’s 2020 challenge is in its third year of working to raise the level of higher education degrees across the nation to 60%, only a fraction of the progress has been made, he said.
One of the most important resources many students and parents don’t take enough advantage of is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), to get free money for college, Darnieder said.
At LBUSD, 60% of high school students fill out the form, but many forget to complete it by signing the form. In January 2013, the Long Beach Unified School District will implement new software that will track those students by name, who have not filled out the application at all or did not complete it.
“FAFSA is key,” Darnieder added. “This is a practical way for the business community to partner with the Long Beach Unified School District.”
With Long Beach’s seamless education program, Promise Pathways, the city is on track to graduate more of its students from college. It currently has an enrolled cohort of 1,000 students from LBUSD who were given guaranteed registration at Long Beach City College, along with defined courses and support to help them remain on track for graduation.
LBUSD Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser added that 79% of Long Beach graduates are in college today, with 752 different colleges across the nation, who are tracked through National Clearing House.
“We hope to have all of our freshmen have a clear opportunity,” said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, LBCC Superintendent and President. “We have spent a lot of time working to create clear pathways for our students.”
The good news has continued for the school district, which now has 60% of its eighth graders participating in algebra, Steinhauser said, with 69% of students at the proficient level — 20% higher than the state of California.
“These students are ready to attend high school, and are on track to graduate college,” he added,
With the election less than a week away, Steinhauser said he is worried about the outcome of the election and whether or not Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30 passes. The governor’s initiative promises to stave off more than $5 billion in cuts to education across the state by raising sales and income taxes on Californians.
“This is the first time I am scared to death it’s not going to happen,” Steinhauser said. “All of us as a collective group need to start thinking about what we’re going to do as a state to fund education.”
If the proposition fails, Steinhauser said that he would have to cut $35 million on Nov. 7 — potentially leaving 84,000 students who would no longer have the chance to take advanced placement courses, music programs, sports and more, and teachers without jobs.
“Every kid that we don’t serve well could be a dropout or cause trouble,” he added. “If things don’t go as well as we want it to go, we need to think about what to do as a community because this will be on our shoulders. It will be nothing like no one has ever seen before. It’s my job and my board’s to make sure we offer quality education, and we will, it will just be very different. I want to be very honest with everyone.“
If Proposition 30 does not pass, the hits also will hurt LBCC and California State University, Long Beach, with additional mid-year cuts. The CSU system will have to make a $250 million mid-year reduction — totaling to $21 million hit for CSULB, in addition to $9 million that rolls over from the previous reduction.
CSULB Provost Don Para added that if the proposition does pass, the CSU system would take a $130 million cut across its 23 campuses.
“If it does not pass, we are likely to close in the spring,” Para said. “We will have to turn away 2,000 students because we have to serve the students that we already have.”