According to a piece on the state’s budget shortfall that ran in last month’s Los Angeles Times, lawmakers may wind up cutting seven days off the 2011-2012 academic school year. I don’t know about you, but this working mom is steamed at the prospect.
It’s not fair to kids, and it’s not fair to parents — especially working parents — either. I know the budget’s a problem, but really, shouldn’t the length of the school year be considered off -limits?
Our school year is already too short. Last year was my kids’ first year in the LAUSD; they were in kindergarten. But instead of being in kindergarten for what’s typical in most states, 180 days, my kids got only 175. That was because of last year’s state budget woes, and an agreement reached with the teachers’ union to give teachers five furlough days to avoid lay-offs, which would have been even worse for everyone: class sizes are already too big in many schools. As it was, my kids lost five days of reading, writing and math instruction, five days of socialization and bonding with their classmates, five days of getting ready for first grade. They lived, and so did their classmates, unaware they’d been a little bit cheated academically.
But what those five days ALSO meant was this: I had to figure out what to do with them.
I’m a working parent in a two-working-parent household, but as my job’s a little less consuming than my husband’s –”only” 40 hours a week — I take on the responsibilities of Chief Domestic Officer. One of those responsibilities is dealing with school furlough days. Sometimes I’m able to use up vacation days or personal days, but I don’t have that many to spare — not if I’m going to take any time over winter, spring and/or summer break to actually vacation with my family. Last year, I was lucky to have a few such days to throw at some of the furlough days, but not all. And furlough days don’t usually happen over an already designated school break, when there are options like camp at their school, if you can afford it.
I’m incredibly fortunate to work at a company that offers back-up childcare services up to ten days a year, at a relatively low cost, because the company subsidizes it. I use that option and am thrilled to have it. But that option isn’t always available: the company is allowed only so many slots at the childcare center, and if those slots are taken, well, you’re outta luck.
Of course, you could find a sitter, and pay them. But few will work all day. The other option is to try to work at home.
Ever try to work at home while your kids are there? How much work do you actually get done? With two six-year-olds at home, the answer, for me at least, is not much. If I’m working at home, I usually end up making up some of that time later at night … after the kids are abed, when I’m bleary-eyed and inefficient at work at best.
Bottom line, any solution to the furlough days problem involves spending money paying someone else to watch your kids, adding stress to your life by trying to squeeze your work in around childcare, or using up precious paid time off that would be put to much better use another time of the year, say, visiting family out of town, or if budgets and schedules allow, being lucky enough to actually show your kids some other part of the country or the world.
Back in the spring, I was hoping this shortening of the school year could be avoided. The teachers union had made a deal with LAUSD, and it looked like the school year was actually going to get bumped up to 177 days — two more than last year. Now, however, that seems to be jeopardy.
Fellow moms, I think this stinks.
It’s unacceptable. Except that we have to accept it, if it happens again this year. The governor and the legislature and the school board make the decisions, and though I get to chime in at the ballot box every few years, the problem doesn’t seem to go away, even if I vote for folks who make education a priority and they actually win. When propositions show up on the ballot asking to allocate more money for the schools, they often win a majority of the vote — but this being California, where tax increases have had to command a two-thirds majority to pass, a simple majority apparently isn’t good enough. This stinks even more.
When I get emails from organizations like Educate Our State, I write , call, and demonstrate to protest this ludicrous business. I urge you to do the same.
I just wish I thought that would be enough.
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