Prop 30: ‘Make it personal’

Parent of three Cheryl Galloway put things into perspective from a student’s standpoint during a community forum Tuesday night on a proposed ballot initiative intended to help fund schools.

She shared a story of how her oldest son – a high school junior – was disappointed that one of his teachers did not write any remarks on his research paper, even though it got an A minus.

With roughly 40 students in her son’s class, not to mention all the other classes with papers that need editing and grading, “(the teacher) doesn’t have any time to write notes on student’s papers,” said Galloway. “Our kids are losing out by having increased class sizes. My son is the one who brought that to my attention.”

Ongoing state budget cuts mean fewer days in school, bigger classes and overworked teachers with less time to devote to little things. Students are starting to notice, says Galloway.

She urged parents to consider how Proposition 30 – which would offset $4.7 million in state budget cuts to schools next year – directly affects the Gilroy Unified School District and the surrounding community.

“Make it personal, because this is your child,” said Galloway, also a GUSD employee. “Become an advocate for our students. Pay attention to what has worked in the past, and fight to keep it in our future.”

The Gilroy Unified School district is “living on the edge” these days, according Superintendent Debbie Flores, who says the district has shaved $27 million from its budget in the last five years.

As GUSD braces for a possible total $8 million cut in state funding, everything hinges on the November general election. Voters will ultimately decide with their votes on Proposition 30 whether GUSD carries on with its budget plan for this year, which includes 10 unpaid furlough days and a 5 percent pay cut for teachers and management staff.

“I believe that a (school) district’s challenges are a community’s challenge,” said Melanie Corona, a GUSD parent and coordinator for the Downtown Business Association.

Alarmed by funding cuts rolling toward GUSD, Corona organized an informational community forum Tuesday night at Gilroy High School. A meager-sized but passionate group of about 15 teachers, parents, school officials and City Council candidates spoke frankly about Prop 30, known as the “Schools & Local Public Safety Protection Act.” The forum did not bring any outspoken opponents of Prop 30.

Proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, Prop 30 would generate an estimated $6 billion annually over the next few years. It will temporarily increase the personal income tax on the state’s taxpayers who earn more than $250,000 by up to 3 percent for seven years, and increase the sales tax by 0.25 percent for four years.

A recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California on Prop 30 found that likely voters are divided on the initiative – 48 percent are in favor, while 44 percent are against.

If passed, the measure will restore $4.7 million to GUSD schools. The district will also be able to cancel the 10 unpaid furlough days and put five instructional days and three staff development days back on the calendar.

If the measure fails, GUSD’s state funding per average daily attending student (ADA) will drop from $5,167 by about 7.5 percent and result in a $4.7 million trigger cut for the district.

That’s $1,938 short of what the district is supposed to be receiving in 2012-13 from the state – “a huge difference,” notes Superintendent Debbie Flores. GUSD should technically be getting $6,720 per ADA thanks to Proposition 98, a voter-approved measure that guarantees minimum state funding for education.

In the wake of California’s growing $16 billion budget deficit, however, the state continues to defer, or underfund schools. School trustees call it the “deferral hokey pokey.”

For James Pace, a school board candidate running uncontested for one of four vacant seats opening up in November, the dire need for better education funding is as black and white as the swollen classrooms he’s observed while recently touring 13 of 15 Gilroy schools.

“The one thing that stands out at every site is there are a lot of kids in each of those classrooms,” he said. “Go see a classroom. The kids are packed in there.”

Lack of elbowroom isn’t the only issue. An entire week of learning is at stake.

“Think of what you can learn in seven days of education?” Pace continued. “Our high-schoolers could read another Shakespeare play. Study a math concept. Do chemistry or physics experiments. As the year shrinks, there’s less and less time for that. I’m willing to pay an additional one cent on my Starbucks coffee each time to help (mitigate) that.”

On the ballot, Prop 30’s pros and cons are laid out.

Prop 30 will provide “billions” in new K-14 education funding, guarantee local public safety and help balance the state budget.

The “cons” identify the measure as a “flawed” initiative that doesn’t reform schools, pensions or cut waste and bureaucracy.

A major claim touted by “No on Prop 30” is that the funds are not earmarked specifically for schools.

Rather, “politicians can take existing money for schools and use it for other programs and then replace that money with the new taxes,” the groups states on its website.

Advocate groups such as “Yes on Prop 30” maintain the measure will stop another $6 billion in cuts to schools this year, prevent steep college tuition hikes and establish a guarantee for public safety funding that “can’t be touched without voter approval.”

School Board trustee Jaime Rosso said that Prop 30 isn’t the only option, “but this is the pending storm that we’re in, and it’s our responsibility to make sure the voters are informed,” he said. “The cards that have been dealt to us by the state consistently every year have made deeper and deeper cuts …and then we’re the bad guys because we’re splitting the baby to make it work.”

With California schools taking a $20 billion hit in the last four years, GUSD teachers and management staff took a 4 percent pay cut in 20010-11, followed by a 5 percent pay cut in 2012-13 (to be realized through 10 unpaid furlough days).

Other cuts implemented since the 2007-08 school year include increased class sizes for kindergarten through 12th grade; staff layoffs; reduction of art, music, computer and foreign language electives at middle schools; raise freezes; and the severe downsizing of home-to-school transportation and the adult education program. The district has also increased employee contributions for health benefits.

“The list goes on and on,” said Flores. “It’s been dramatic, these past five years.”

Educators are fretting over what will happen when cuts stymie academic progress.

GUSD students have steadily improved on Academic Performing Index scores (the state’s yardstick to measure academic success) over the last six years. But as state funding tumbles downhill, “it makes that really difficult to continue this positive process,” said Flores.

City Council candidate Paul Kloecker, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, pointed out that schools are receiving fewer resources while curriculum standards and student achievement expectations grow more rigorous. Kloecker’s wife has taught in GUSD for 32 years.

At some point, “something’s gotta give, somehow,” he said.

• $82 million: GUSD’s annual budget
• 70 percent: Amount of GUSD’s budget funded by the state
• 80 percent: Amount of GUSD’s budget spent on salaries and benefits
• $6,720: Amount of state funding per student GUSD is supposed to receive. GUSD actually receives $5,167 due to ongoing state deferrals.
• $5,223: Amount of state funding per student GUSD will receive if Prop 30 passes. This equates to $4.7 million.
• $4,782: Amount of state funding per student GUSD will receive if Prop 30 doesn’t pass.

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