This post was written as an article for this month’s Arundel PTA newsletter by Heather Mannion, a “…1st grader’s mom, entering 2010 kindergartener’s mom, and volunteer”. She was gracious enough to allow me to post it on my blog.
I think Heather’s article does a great job of summarizing in one place just what’s at stake, and what every San Carlos parent should do about it.
This is a personal editorial and does not officially reflect the views of either the PTA or the San Carlos Educational Foundation.
I’m mad. I’m angry at what the state of California has done to our schools. You may have heard this statistic: California currently ranks 47th in the nation in per student funding. Yet California is the tenth largest economy in the world. That’s quite a disconnect. And with these budget cuts, it’s likely we’ll be at the bottom very soon. Our schools are being utterly and systematically dismantled. Every parent with a child in California should be profoundly angry.
It is immoral and unfair. Thinking outside of our district and state-wide for a moment… if these severe cuts are occurring in our district, with a $1M educational foundation at its back, just think of what’s happening in districts without the means to raise funds independently. Their school walls are crumbling — literally. Or their schools are simply shutting down.
As we look at the situation in San Carlos, there’s an inclination to get mired in the school board’s list of potential cuts and analyze what we believe our schools need and don’t need. We all should do this. While we all want to save our programs (and all have different opinions about which ones to save), as we fight to save particular budget line items, let’s try not to lose track of the big picture. How did we get here? What is wrong with California? And why are we hit so hard in San Carlos?
One way to explain the current crisis is to look at the way California schools typically get funded. In our district, think of it as an equation: local ongoing property tax revenue + state/federal funding + periodic parcel taxes + non-profit foundation funding = school funds.
- Local property tax revenue: Our current crisis has its origins 30 years ago with the passing of Proposition 13. I won’t get into all the detail here (for more information on the history of Prop 13, I strongly recommend looking it up on wikipedia.com). In short, Prop 13 is a 1978 amendment to the California constitution, placed on the ballot by citizens as an attempt to keep property taxes stable and manageable, particularly for first-time home buyers and the elderly on fixed incomes (who were increasingly being priced out of their homes by rapidly rising home prices). Under Proposition 13, the annual real estate tax on a parcel of property is limited to 1% of its assessed value. This “assessed value,” however, may only be increased by a maximum of 2% per year, until and unless the property undergoes a change of ownership. This resulted almost immediately in a 57% reduction in property tax revenue – money that typically had funded local municipalities. In turn, with the huge loss in local revenue, the state took on a greater role in funding school districts. Local funds dried up. In San Carlos, the percentage of San Carlos property tax revenue that goes towards schools is only about 25%. Couple that with the overall long-term effects of Prop 13, and not a lot of money from the community makes it to our schools.
- State/federal funding: instead of making up the difference in lost tax revenue (as was assured communities by original Prop 13 supporters), as we’re all aware, the state is drastically cutting school funding. Instead of supporting schools, Sacramento’s reducing and withholding funds. As we’ve heard, our budget has been cut here in San Carlos by $2M this year alone. Districts are feeling it all over the state. Federal funding typically doesn’t contribute a lot to our district, and though it looks optimistic with the new administration, we’re uncertain how things will change in the future.
- Local parcel taxes: communities typically have funded schools through parcel tax measures; unfortunately our Measure S, which would have mitigated these drastic state budget cuts, failed in November by just a few hundred votes.
- Independent non-profit foundations: to bridge the gap between insufficient state funding and the real costs of quality public education, many communities have formed non-profit foundations. Ours, the San Carlos Educational Foundation, raised $1.1M last year. This is wonderful progress, but it’s just not enough to offset the huge cuts from the state.
That’s a lot of bad news. Instead of simply getting angry, however, let’s ask ourselves: WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS??? The good news is that our community is energized, motivated and now mobilizing to fight back. I’m sensing a groundswell of volunteer energy, and a lot of interest in making our situation better.
SHORT TERM – RIGHT NOW:
- Super-Support SCEF: We can directly impact and improve our district’s finances through the growth of the San Carlos Educational Foundation – SCEF is the variable in the school funding equation that can make the biggest impact immediately. It’s tough to talk about increasing donations when the economy’s in such bad shape. But let’s get creative. Donate (any amount counts) then ask all your relatives to donate. Find out if your company matches funds and make it happen. Ask friends to donate to SCEF in honor of a child’s – or adult’s – birthday. Go to Spring Fling (but hurry! Tickets are going fast! www.springfling.us). Support your children’s sales of Spring Fling raffle tickets. Donate: www.scef.us. Volunteer: contact Carolyn Baxter: (firstname.lastname@example.org). By growing SCEF, we can greatly lessen the effects of these cuts.
- Support the next parcel tax. The San Carlos Board of Education is considering placing an education funding measure the ballot this spring. To learn more, attend the public hearing on February 4 at 7 p.m. at the Central Middle School Library. Volunteer. Donate to the campaign. Then vote for it. Tell everyone you know to vote. To volunteer, contact: [the campaign volunteer coordinators, or the school campaign captains, a list of which I’ll provide in a follow-up post – Mark]. To donate, contact April Carlson (email@example.com) and Michelle Green (firstname.lastname@example.org).
ONGOING – ALL THE TIME:
- Support our teachers. Janet Hall already said it, but I’m saying it again. Our teachers do an unbelievable job with already limited resources. Let’s give them all the help we can, and show them at every opportunity how much we appreciate their efforts.
- Write to our state legislators. In a future Tuesday envelope, you’ll find a letter to Senator Joe Simitian advocating on behalf of our schools. Please sign the letter, and return it to the Letters box in the office. Our letters will be dropped off at his office, with the hope that it they’ll provide him additional leverage in Sacramento to support our schools. Even better — write a detailed, personal and hand-written letter to legislators. Here are their addresses:
- Governor: Arnold Schwarzenegger (http:/gov.ca.gov/)
State Capital Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
- State Senator: Joe Simitian (http://www.senatorsimitian.com)
160 Old Town and Country Village
Palo Alto CA , 94301
- Assemblyman: Ira Ruskin: (http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a21/)
P.O. Box 942849
Sacramento, CA 94249-0021
- Governor: Arnold Schwarzenegger (http:/gov.ca.gov/)
- Join Senator Joe Simitian in supporting his measure to allow local California school districts to approve their local parcel taxes with a 55% majority rather than the 2/3 currently required by Proposition 13. (Remember that our parcel tax failed in November with 65.6% of the vote.) To learn more, go to www.senatorsimitian.com. Click on ISSUES, then EDUCATION, then SCA 6 (2009). Passing legislation won’t happen overnight, but let’s join the fight. The passing of this measure would make a huge difference for our schools in the long run.
Don’t move. MOBILIZE.
Don’t fret. FIGHT.
Don’t worry. WRITE.
Let’s channel our anger into a fury of community activism. Now’s the time – President Obama is motivating people all over the country to take on challenges just like these. Let’s make some noise. Tell Sacramento we’ve had enough. Support SCEF. Write our leaders. Get involved. Save our San Carlos schools, and in so doing, help improve education for all of California’s kids.