With the election only a few days away, some educators and parents have stepped up efforts to gain support for Proposition 30 by emphasizing that the fate of hundreds of thousands California students' education rests in voters’ hands.
What’s at stake is millions of dollars from the 2012-13 fiscal year, supporters say. If Proposition 30 does not pass, educators warn the per-student spending, already among the lowest in the country, would be cut by more than $450.
Local districts say they have already trimmed “the fat” and then some, educators said. But the loss of Proposition 30 could mean shortened school years, teacher furloughs, fewer summer school options and deeper staff cuts in some of the districts.
The proposition’s failure “would be devastating,” said Dean Conklin, superintendant for the Walnut Valley Unified School District.
Proposition 30, known as the School and Safety Protection Act, is a four-year quarter cent increase to the state’s sales tax. And for the next seven years, it would also raise personal income tax on Californians who earn more than $250,000 a year.
Governor Jerry Brown, who has toured to promote Prop. 30, said the new tax is expected to raise $6 billion annually and would spare the state’s public schools from $6 billion trigger cuts that would go into effect on Jan. 1 as the state tries to fill a $16 billion budget shortfall.
Bonita, Claremont and Pomona Unified school districts have passed resolutions supporting the proposition. Walnut Valley has not passed a formal resolution, but District Board President Larry Redinger said each board trustee has voiced his or her own opinions on it individually.
Opponents insist the legislation does not guarantee the money will be used for education. Not so, said supporters. Revenue is guaranteed to go into a special account for schools that the legislature can’t touch, according to voter information.
Many residents are angry over the rising income taxes they fear would drive out businesses. If Proposition 30 passes, tax rates would increase to 13.1 percent for top earners, the highest in the country, according to the Claremont McKenna University’s Video Voter Series.
Some also seem to feel hesitant to trust a state that has not been able to fund its schools, despite past efforts, Redinger said.
“I think there is ambivalence,” Redinger said. “From my way of thinking, I’ve been around a lot of elections, and I don’t feel like the prop was formulated in a way that it will not reach the district the way it's intended. In other words, I don’t think we’ll get what we vote for. I have seen that before. However I really do want it to pass.”
Those pushing for the proposition argue the stakes are high.
“If Prop. 30 does not pass, then we would be looking at an additional almost $4.4 million in reductions for this current school year,” said Gary Rapkin, PhD, Superintendent for Bonita Unified School District, which serves the cities of La Verne and San Dimas.
And for the 2013-14 school year, it would mean yet another $4.4 million. In total, it is a drop of roughly $9 million on top of about $13 million lost over the last five years, Rapkin said.
Pomona Unified was already facing a $19.3 million deficit from the 2012-13 budget. If the tax initiative does not pass, the district will be forced to cut an additional $10 million, said District Superintendant Richard Martinez.
Schools would lose $400 to $470 in funds per student this fiscal year.
“That is a pretty significant hit given that right now we’re only receiving about $5,000 per pupil,” said Lisa Shoemaker, Assistant Superintendent for business services with Claremont Unified School District. “It would be about $3 million less coming in.”
Walnut Valley may be forced to cut $6.7 million if the measure fails. Among the districts in the area, they are among the lowest in per-student spending, spending less than $5,000 per, district officials said.
Pomona Unified spends roughly $5,000 per student, according to their website.
There is no way to tell how the vote will go. The measure is polling at 48 percent in favor to 38 percent against, with 14 percent undecided, according to the Huffington Post.
And it does have competition from Proposition 38, the Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act authored by Pasadena attorney Molly Munger. That measure has not gotten much play from those who have lobbied city councils and local officials for support.
Instead, much for the focus has been on passing Prop. 30 and balancing current budgets.
“You’ve got to be supportive of the district and any money will help us,” Redinger said.