Better Days Ahead, Part 1: Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser, LBUSD

[Eds. Note: This is part one of a three part series, in which we check-in mid-year with the three men who head Long Beach’s educational institutions. This series also appears in our February print edition, available for free at more than 500 locations citywide. Click here to find a copy near you.]

He has been serving the Long Beach Unified School District for 31 years–and Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser has never felt more optimistic about the future.

This is a bold statement on his behalf: the last four years have seen an overwhelming series of cuts that in 2012 alone reached $20 million in budget shortfalls for his District, exacerbated disagreements between the Teachers Association of Long Beach, added spectacle to the emotional battle over charter schools, forced the closure of Monroe Middle Sch

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ool, enacted the sad ending of the Head Start program, trimmed grade levels, eradicated bus accessibility for many…

That is not an easy list of things to swallow. But Steinhauser, though cautious, sees nothing but possibility.

“There’s great hope—not only fiscally, but all the great things going on for our kids,” Steinhauser said. “As you look through Promises [Pathway, the initiative partnership with Long Beach City College and Long Beach State], one can’t help but be amazed that we achieved success in that program in a time when the district was in the most dire financial state in its history.”

That initiative–also praised by LBCC President Eloy Ortiz Oakley and CSULB President F. King Alexander­–has achieved an outcome that didn’t seem possible when looking up from the bottom of the educational hole California had dug itself.

“Having said that, it doesn’t mean it’s all a bed of roses and everything is hunky-dory by any means,” Steinhauser cautioned. “It means that there’s a huge opportunity for us to think strategically, to plan our outcomes and deliver them.”

LBUSD bythenumbersWhen institutions such as the three base educational pillars of Long Beach take such massive hits and a drastic tax initiative like Prop 30 still leaves an equally drastic structural deficit, it is pause for reflection beyond the one given during the past election in regards to how we approach education. It requires, as all three institutions are attempting to do, an examination of mistakes and hope to provide more opportunity for our future—along with an unwavering support of the public which must fund it.

“One issue is that California educational finance is so difficult to understand, almost overly complicated,” explained Steinhauser. “And I think people think, ‘We raised taxes, everything is fine.’ The bottom line is that we WILL be fine in the future, better than we had anticipated—but there are so many other factors.”

One of those looming factors is the current stalemate in Washington over public educational funding that will affect not just LBUSD but the entirety of California. The Budget Control Act of 2011 legislated that federal budget cuts of over $2 trillion over a ten-year period must be enacted. The law itself made $1 trillion in immediate cuts and then attempted to make an additional $1.2 trillion in cuts through a joint congressional committee. However, unable to produce a plan for a balanced approach, the Budget Control Act automatically goes to provisions in which sequestration—commonly called cancelled budgetary resources or the “fiscal cliff” of across-the-board cuts—becomes effective. Should an agreement not be reached by March 1, March 27 will bring about the actual cuts.

LBUSD currently receives some $70 million in federal funding and as currently structured, will see a 8.5% cut in those funds should the stalemate in D.C. continue.

And though Steinhauser must act as if this is a certainty–assumptions will “not get us anywhere but trouble”–he, as bold as his initial statement, remains utterly hopeful.

“Even the Governor, with his budget proposal, has become more supportive… We’ve been saying for years that local communities should decide how their dollar is best used—not Sacramento. And to his credit, he is moving forward with that initiative,” said Steinhauser. “But that comes with something better: as a K-12 leader, I could not be happier about the support I get from both college presidents and the community to help our kids. It’s just simply exciting.”

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