Schools in Toledo are scheduled to shut down completely from mid-October to Jan. 3. Those in Philadelphia are operating with 3,000 fewer employees than a year ago. And Detroit schools opened this fall without any varsity sports, music or art programs.
This was a familiar story in the 1960s, when the baby-boom generation was still moving through the nation's school systems, enrollments were rising and budgets were breaking down under the strain.
But today enrollments are dropping, classrooms are standing empty, and teachers, being in over-supply, have become less militant in pressing for higher pay. Yet the financial health of the nation's schools is as poor as ever.
The reasons are universal: high inflation, mushrooming energy costs, underused buildings, ever-increasing demands for services, and extremely high fixed costs.
Payments for Social Security and retirement programs in some states now make up 20 per cent of the cost of education, and in a number of places a teacher makes more money by retiring than working.
This year school costs will rise an estimated 8 per cent while enrollments will drop 1.6 per cent. And per-pupil expenditures in some rich school districts will reach $4,000, almost as much as tuition at an Ivy League college.
Almost every city and state is feeling the pinch in one way or another, although it is generally less severe in the Sunbelt areas of South and West. In a recent survey by the National School Public Relations Association, top education officers in 49 of the 50 states named money as their number one headache.
Only one state, Nevada, reported a "sound financial and economic outlook" for its schools this fall.
Meanwhile, there is growing evidence of a rebellion by taxpayers, who feel they are paying more and more for education and getting less and less in return.
Last year, 49 per cent of the school bond issues put up for vote across the nation were defeated; in 1965 more than 75 per cent of them were approved. And last December, more than 70,000 students in parts of Oregon, Connecticut and Ohio were sent home when voters rejected tax increases.
"Our schools have been turned down four times at the polls since November 1975," says Kay Quealy, director of information for Toledo schools. "People are fed up with high costs. They can say no to school costs, because they're on the ballot. But they can't say no to the electric company, the gas company, or the high cost of food."
Nowhere has the financial squeeze been more severe than in the big cities of the Northeast and Midwest.
The enrollment declines of the last seven years have hit hardest there because the national decline in the birthrate has been exacerbated by continued flight to the suburbs. Since 1970, school population has dropped 13 per cent in the District of Columbia, 332,000 in New York City, 46,000 in Detroit, 30,000 in Philadelphia, 22,000 in Minneapolis.
Many big city schools have been left top heavy with administrators and unneeded personnel, and burdened with deficits from years past.A report by the New York States comptroller last June, for instance, charged that New York City schools spend $1 million a year cleaning rooms no longer used, and one East Harlem district with 2 schools kept 32 principals on its pay-
They've also been faced with orders from courts, and legislatures to provide programs for educationally, economically and physically handicapped students - but no money to provide the services.
"Our fundamental problems were laid in the 1960s," says Detroit superintendent Arthur Jefferson. "You had eroding tax bases, expressways were tearing up neighborhoods and the middle class was moving to the suburbs. Dmends for services and salaries were high. But we just kept spending money, going into the red."
Increasingly, basic servies for kids have been cut. "None of us are happy with the things we've had to do, or the overall achievement level of our students," complains Jefferson.
Faced with repaying $12 million a year in past depts, Detroit last year cut off one hour of class in its junior high schools, public financing of sports and all music programs in its junior and senior high schools.
When the Philadelphia school system found itself with a $67 million deficit last spring, it fired 10,000 employees, closed school libraries, dropped kindergarten, sports and school lunch programs.
Fortunately, schools in both cities were bailed out: Philadelphia by the state legislature, the city council and local banks; Detroit by a property tax increase approved in an election Jefferson termed "extremely crucial to turning the tide of what's happened to our school since 1971."
Toledo schools haven't been so lucky. Faced with a $6.7 million deficit in a state where operating in the red is prohibited by law, all schools there are scheduled to close their doors from Oct. 13 to Jan. 3.
Local school districts have turned increasingly to state governments for help. Nationally, the states' share of the bill for elementary and secondary education rose from 39.7 per cent in 1965 to 43.6 per cent last year. In 18 states that have adopted major education-finance reforms - often prompted by court decisions since 1970, the state share has increased to 51 per cent.
This has created a major shift in the way schools are financed, and an annual parade of school officials to state capitols.
When the California legislature passed a controversial school finance measure in August, for instance, William J. Johnston, superintendent of Los Angeles schools, said:
"The state legislature has again saved the day. These perils of Pauline resolutions, which are a part of our annual financial plight, are the way the game is now played. As much as we don't like it, we must recognize it as a fact of life."