Monday, February 21, 2011

LBUSD Budget Struggle: Share-It

By Brian Ulaszewski|Design In Place|February 21, 2011|10:32am

Many Long Beach Post regulars may have already read the back and forth discussion between two guest commentators, Dennis Smith and Vera Woodson, regarding the Long Beach Unified School District’s current financial crisis. Smith’s budgetary solutions were largely rejected by Woodson because in her analysis, they relied on an incomplete understanding of bus schedules and the assumption that removing a few bad apples can solve deeper problems. At the risk of stating the obvious, my diagnosis is that in California, we overall dedicate insufficient resources to education. After all, when adjusted for variation between states in the cost of living, California ranks almost last in terms of education spending per student. Even with this distressing and important reality in mind, the current malaise can serve as an opportunity for revisiting the status quo. There should be no sacred cows when trying to do more with less, and education is no exception, even as we continue to lobby for renewing our state’s investment in this crucial area. 

The question of doing more with less is complex indeed when considering the Long Beach Unified School District (hereafter LBUSD). With nearly 100 campuses encompassing hundreds of acres across Long Beach, Lakewood, Signal Hill, and even Catalina Island, the district has an incredible regional footprint. Most schools have libraries and open space, which is crucial because many are located in communities underserved by public parks and with public libraries overstretched by the needs of local youth. The City of Long Beach tries to address these needs by purchasing available parcels to convert to open space, and also by developing new libraries when resources become available. At the same time, the LBUSD struggles to preserve staffing levels at their school libraries and recess areas. Too often these difficulties mean schools must share librarians, or asphalt their entire outdoor play area to minimize maintenance costs.

Given these shared difficulties with libraries and parks, the LBUSD and City of Long Beach should consider sharing resources, maintenance, staffing, and liability. This concept is not unprecedented locally or nationally. Cesar Chavez Elementary School in downtown Long Beach is a noteworthy example. Students use the adjacent public park for their outdoor recreation area; in exchange, the school gymnasium and health clinic are available to the public on evenings and weekends. Having reciprocal benefits for each party is an essential component to establishing such joint-use arrangements.  LBUSD and the city both need to derive a benefit from the relationship. With the current fiscal crisis, models for collaboration like this are worth exploring more broadly.

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