Just outside the middle school here, to the south, where the sun is strongest, a long patch of cracked, unpainted asphalt runs between the hopscotch court and the basketball court. The cracks start slowly, but they keep getting bigger, and by the time school superintendent Leo St. John walked out there the other day the asphalt was as broken as rough mosaic.
"There'll be weeds coming through 'em pretty soon," he said.
The school district for this community east of San Francisco Baylost more than 11 percent of its budget after the passage of Proposition 13. It cannot afford to repair the asphalt.
There also will be no film program,no replacement ofthe patched classroom carpeting, no music program, no blacktop for the dirt maintenance area that turns into a quagmire in the winter, no field trips, no new doors on the boys' bathroom, where four of the five stall doors have been broken off, no replacement of athletic uniforms and about one-sixth the number of school bus stops.
On Bethel Island, in the nearby Sacramento River Delta, Oakley children, who used to enjoy what amounted to door - to- door bus service, must now walk up to 1.4 miles, sometimes through the thick, low fog that blots out everything in the winter.
School employes, who work in an area where the cost of living rose an estimated 12 percent last year, will get no pay increase. And teachers have been told that they will no longer make extra money for completing outside courses or graduate degrees.
"There's just no way," said St. John "to squeeze blood out of a turnip." Later he adds, "It'd be awfully damned embarrassing if we got to June and we couldn't make the payroll."
It is small, semi-rural and harder hit than most, but the two -school district that serves the eastern Contra Costra community of Oakley is acting this year like almost every school district in the state holding its breath, tightening its belt a notch or two and trying not to worry yet about next year.
Almost two - thirds of general school funding statewide used to come from local property taxes. Proposition 13 chopped about $2.8 billion, or 60 percent, out of those taxes. The state pumped $2 billion back into the schools as part of a general temporary bailout plan, but that still left many of them short. California's 1,043 school districts had to make do with $800 million less, an average cut of 9 to 15 percent.
School districts canceled summersessions, froze salaries and laid off 13,970 nonteaching school employes. Teaching staffs, as a rule, did not change, because California state law requires districts to notify teachers by March 15 that they may be laid off. Last March there were not many people besides Howard Jarvis, who seriously believed proposition 13 would pass.
In western Contra Costa County, Moraga cut out after- school sports and eliminated next year's textbook purchases, and stopped all busing. Canyon lost an art teacher, an assistant teacher and an aide- which in that tiny pine-forested school districts was exactly one - half the teaching staff. Mount Diablo laid off 139 nonteachers, started charging $10 per child for extracurricular sports and told secondary students they could only take the school bus if they lived more than seven miles from their school.
"Cutbacks to the nubbins," St, John mused, quoting his version of the now famous mandate of Proposition 13. But who is to say what the nubbins is? Said St John: "It's like the fellow in our district who said he'd take a 1 percent cut in achievement if we could get busing back.
"For Oakley and the other school districts short on what Jarvis calls "fat" and St. John calls "wiggle room," this first round of cuts has been painful, controversial and sometimes bitterly received . Oakley teachers have charged that denying them pay increases for their graduate study constitutes an unfair labor practice.
The salary freezes are being challenged in court statewide. Parents speak of the cuts in voices still full of the betrayed anger that was the marching music of proposition 13: the administrators lie, the administrators distort, the administrators would rather push paper and overstaff fancy programs than bus children.
To the Oakley parents who still believe they have been rooked out of much of their bus program, St. John's explanations of how the district has allocated its money just don't wash.
"The higher-up people this was meant to affect are turning around to slap us on the hand and say. "You're bad, you voted for it," said one Oakley mother who supported Proposition 13 and who said she believes that with all she has paid out in property taxes there must be enough money there somewhere for the buses. "Somebody," she said, "doesn't know how to budget."
Suppose for a moment that they are not lying or wrong, she was asked. Suppose there really is not enough money. Is the tax savings worth a cracked basketball court?
Worth cutting back landscaping?
"When I was in school we didn't have lawns, and trees."
Worth dropping music, film?
"We didn't have music when we were in school. Why can't they just go back to reading and writing and arithmetic. I'm not out to be a vindictive person. I just think we've taken too much. The government has taxed us and taxed us and taxed us to death, and we've got to stand and fight somewhere. I still believe Proposition 13 was good."
There are voices like these all over the country, defending and accusing and trying to plan, but for many districts the whole thing is just a giant irritant so far - a fraying at the edges, if you used to think schools needed everything they got; a prescription for frugality if you didn't.
A young third-grade teacher will have to explain the words to the Star Spangled Banner because there is not enough in her school to get the film that shows Francis Scott Key contemplating the tattered flag.
An eight-grade social studies teacher got to the sections of stereotyped views of American Indians, found the pioneer quote he wanted the students to examine and wrote out both the quote and the essay question on the blackboard because there was not enough money for reproduction paper to make handouts for all the students.
Government classes at Joaquin Moraga Junior High School will not have subscription to Junior Scholastic and Current Events this year. English classes at Northgate High School will have to forgo a lengthy list of supplement texts that include "Catcher in the Rye," "AllQuiet on the Western Front," "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Lord of the Flies."
Ray Lippincott, a social studies teacher who got a 3 percent salary increase 1n 1977 and 3 percent the year before that, got no pay increase at all this year - he now makes under $19,000 - and is seriously thinking about other work.
Michael Meinke, high school English teacher, has lost the assistant who used to help correct his papers. That means that when he assigns his students their term papers, each one of which takes about three hours to grade. Meinke is expected to find 180 hours of his own to correct term papers - despite the fact that he has a total of 153 students who ought to be writing at least one composition per week.
If parents of Meinke's students will not help pay for a reader, he said, there will probably be no term paper this year.
Rich Cunningham, on the otherhand, thought Proposition 13 was an excellent idea and still does. Cunningham's son, Mike, 13 who is an eighth-grader at Joaquin Moraga, and about as serious as you can get about after-school sports, lost all of them this year to the budget cuts - basketball, football, soccer, baseball.
So his father put together a pay-as-you go sports program, which will end up costing Mike and his friends anywhere from $13.50 to $55 (plus a surcharge for making the A team - which Mike probably will).
Cunningham, a real estate developer whose property taxes have been cut from $3,000 to $1,200 under Proposition 13 figures the tradeoff was worth it. "I'll pay 55 bucks because my kids want to do it ," he said. "I don't complain about this cutback. When you get to the point where you're paying for your inflated houses with $3,000, $4,000, $5,000, it's calling on property taxes to do too many things . . . I think recreation is a necessary thing, but if it comes down to cuts, I would rather the schools teach what they're there to do."
The cutbacks forced by Proposition 13 also have set teachers against administrators in the fight for funds.
St. Jonh in an interview, said that it would cost $24,000 to give teachers their extra money for advanced work. "The money just isn't there," he said.
Terri Black head of the local teachers' organization said among other things that the district's K-13 school did not need to hire a principal this year ($21,681 a year, one too many administrators), that there is no need to fly consultants up from Los Angeles at school expense, and that there are little inflated costs throughout the budget, like the $4,500 storage shed.
"Four thousand five hundred dollars for a storage shed!" she exclaimed, stabbing her finger at a copy of the budget as she sat at a desk in her third-grade classroom. The teachers had found a stroage shed in the Sears Roebuck catalog for $349, Black said.
St. John countered that he believed the school would function better with a principal than without one. He said the consultants were brought up from Los Angeles because they were experts on the program in question and he thought they would do the best job. And of the cheaper storage shed, St. John said. "I have one of those in my back yard and my boys opened it up with a can opener. You don't build school buildings that way. You build them to last." When St. John talks like that, he is thinking about the future , but most school people in the state are thinking more about next year. Next year is the great uncertainty for school districts - like every other branch of local government that has lost 60 percent of its property tax revenue.
"I'm frightened to death," one assistant superintendent said. It is generally assumed that the state will again grant money to schools, but several education officials agreed in interviews that, as one put it. "There is no way the surplus will be as large. You will have more competition and the districts will be less."
There will likely be more cuts "to the nubbins. "Inflation will have eaten away at one more year, employes whose salaries were frozen will be asking for money, and school officials will spend much of their budget sessions figuring out where they can fire people.
And Ray Lippincott, the social studies teacher whose salary has risen 6 percent in the last three years, may look into that other career that seems considerably more lucrative than teacher's these years. He is thinking about taking up real estate