Breanda Crump thought she'd have to spend her senior year of high school standing still. The decorated track and field star was one of many athletes in Mount Vernon, N.Y., left dumbfounded at the news that her school board had slashed the entire interscholastic sports program this year.
Track and field was Crump's passion. It was also her ticket to college and, potentially, to the Olympics.
But Crump wasn't alone. Across the country, students, parents and administrators have been left shaking their heads at the budget cuts made to seemingly invaluable programs and services.
In South Bend, Ind., the district's entire team of crossing guards is expected to be dismissed in January. In Duluth, Minn., class sizes have shot up to as high as 49 students and athletics is next on the chopping block. A Southern California school district cut more than two thirds of its bus routes before the start of school. And a district in Tampa, Fla., has raised building temperatures to cut down on energy costs.
While school budget cuts are not a new phenomenon, the foundering economy, the ongoing mortgage crisis, and billions of dollars in state and federal deficits have caused many school boards to hit a critical point this year. Programs once considered vital to students' well-being are being slashed to preserve the most basic educational services: books, special education, teacher salaries, electricity.
An estimated 5,000 students in the Capistrano Unified School District in southern Orange County, Calif., had to find their own way to school after the district slashed $3.5 million from the transportation budget, reducing the number of daily bus routes from 62 to 18.
"It was huge," district spokeswoman Julie Hatchel told ABCNews.com. But it was better, she said, than a previous plan to both cut the buses and lay off 300 teachers.
When the school board got word in January of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's state budget, members were faced with trimming $28 million from their budget. On the list was $8 million from the class-size reduction program, which would have resulted in the teacher layoffs, and the $3.5 million from transportation.
Parents and residents had made it clear to Capistrano's school board during community forums that they preferred the cuts to be as far away from the classroom as possible. So when a revised plan from Schwarzenegger in May restored $8 million to the district, the board put that money back into the class-size reduction program and left the transportation money out of the budget.
Reaction to the plan, Hatchel said, was mixed.
"I think there's an understanding and an empathy that we're going through these cuts and it's devastating," she said.
Students affected by the bus cuts now either car pool or "walk pool" by congregating in groups led by a parent volunteer.
Back in Mount Vernon, N.Y., located less than a half hour north of New York City, the community was left to pay for the sports program themselves at a cost of about $1.1 million -- not an easy feat given that the city's estimated median household income is below state average.
Crump, 17, had been running competitively since a coach in 8th grade made a sweep of the school cafeteria asking if anyone was interested in the sport.
"I was like, 'I have legs,'" she said.