Area schools reflect on passage of Prop 30

Carmen GeorgeNovember 16, 2012 

Area school districts are relieved with the passing of Proposition 30 -- what ensures schools won't receive a mid-year cut from the state -- although many educators say things are still far from stable or satisfactory on the education funding front.

"While we celebrate its passage, Prop 30 does not solve California's problems, either economically or educationally," said Glenn Reid, superintendent of Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District. "What Prop 30 does for us is provide flat funding for this school year. We are still far behind other states in funding per child, and in our district, still several thousand dollars behind where we should be (per child) had the economy not been in a downturn."

The other proposition that would have helped education, Proposition 38, failed.

Prop 38 would have provided about $10 billion annually in initial years for schools, child care, preschool and state debt payments through increased personal state income taxes for most Californians for 12 years.

Prop 30 only taxed earnings for Californians making over $250,000 for seven years, and increased sales taxes by a fourth of a cent for four years, to fund schools. The result is $6 billion annually over the next few years, with increased state tax revenues through 2019 for funding the state budget.

The passage of Prop 30 provided "some much needed breathing room for our school districts," said Geri Kendall Cox, chief business and administrative services officer for the Madera County Office of Education.

"According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, the initiative will generate an additional $6.8 to $8.5 billion in 2013 and $5.4 to $7.6 billion for each year thereafter through 2018," Cox said. "At this point, funding will be assumed to be 'flat' for the next few years."

Still, other educators said they are wary to make any assumptions about what the state will actually end up paying them in the wake of brutal cuts to education since 2008.

"The governor has not indicated about funding for future years -- 2013-14 and onwards," said Srini Vasan, chief business officer and assistant superintendent for Yosemite Unified School District. "I hesitate to speculate."

Many districts locally and statewide faced the possibility of having to cut as many as 15 additional school days if Prop 30 had not passed, on top of already increased class sizes, operational cuts, and former layoffs to teachers and staff.

"The governor stated that had Prop 30 not passed, that we would only be funded for 160 days of instruction," Reid said. "We are currently funded at 175 days of instruction, down from the 180 days of funding we received a few years ago. All of these cuts are taking place at a time when I believe that we need more school funding, not less ...

"Other industrialized countries all attend school for at least 200 days, or sometimes more. If we are to compete with the rest of the world, I believe we need to have more school than we currently do. Unfortunately, this will cost money, and this is something that is in short supply in our state right now. Had the proposition not passed, the amount of cuts we would have seen in our district would be staggering."

Bob Nelson, superintendent of the Chawanakee School District, said their school year would have dropped from 175 days to 170 days had Prop 30 failed.

"People are already worried about the value they're getting for the educational dollar, and to shorten the school year by an additional five days would not have been in the best interest of our students," Nelson said.

Vasan said if Prop 30 had failed, Yosemite Unified could have faced an additional $894,000 in cuts for 2012-13, and the same amount of reductions in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

If the mid-year trigger cuts had been imposed, to stay afloat, Yosemite Unified would have been forced to pull from their diminishing reserves, and in addition negotiate additional reduction in operating expenses, Vasan said.

"This would have been very difficult since we have already made all possible cuts," Vasan said. "There are no more low-hanging fruits. We are at the lowest sustenance on all operational expenses."

"Our classified and management had already agreed to five days of furlough for the next three years," Reid said. "Over the past few years, we have cut teaching and classified staff, closed schools, cut supply budgets, cut sports, reconfigured how we provide music to our students, cut field trips, cut bus routes -- there really isn't much left to go without raising class sizes to the 40s ... Remember, flat funding is OK, but employee costs, fuel, energy, food, etc. costs continue to go up, so flat funding is not ideal."

Had Prop 30 failed, area districts would have likely further depleted their already dwindling reserve funds. Chawanakee Unified has been operating on a 1% reserve this school year, what they hope to grow up to 3% by next year. As of July 1, Yosemite Unified had a 12.6% reserve, estimated to be about 4% in June. The Bass Lake district has about 28% in their reserves, what they expect will drop to about 11% by 2014-15.

While Bass Lake's cushion may seem large, it's really not, said Maureen Hester, director of business services for the district.

"Yosemite and Chawanakee districts get more money from revenue-limit funding, so they get more monthly payments of cash," Hester said. "For the Bass Lake district, at this present time, we get no state aid at all, our funding comes from property taxes, awarded to the district twice a year ... so in order to make payroll and pay our staff, it's important to have a cushion in our reserve."

"The state is still funding districts at a little less than 78% of the entitlement (Revenue Limit) per student, so some deficit spending may still be happening," Cox said of education, post-Prop 30. "Districts have built up their reserves in order to be able to spend more than the state is providing and continue to operate. Depending on a district's reserve levels, and all the other factors previously mentioned, the budget may still be tight, even with the passage of Proposition 30. But it will be much, much better than if the proposition had not passed."

"Over the past few years, the legislature has found ways to not give schools that money they were guaranteed by the passage of Proposition 98 in 1988," Hester said. "And at this point, school districts are receiving 22.2% less than they are supposed to be receiving ... We are not out of the woods yet. We are still very under funded compared to the rest of the nation. Until education becomes a priority to the state legislature, I think we're going to struggle."

The Sierra Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service