Steven E. Gomes: Schools need help at ballot

October 12, 2012 

It's no secret that California schools have been the target of draconian cuts by the state Legislature during the economic downturn. If you have a child in the K-12 education system, you've likely noticed increased class sizes, reduction of services and extra-curricular programs, loss of transportation services and even reductions of faculty and staff. School district trustees and school administrators are year after year put in a difficult situation trying to balance a consistently unpredictable budget.

California currently ranks 44th in the nation for per-student spending and has steadily been below the average since the early 1980s. A school of 500 students is operating annually with about $500,000 less than Proposition 98 calculates the school should receive.

There are several propositions on the ballet for the Nov. 6 general election and two that are specifically aimed at increasing school spending. The governor's initiative, Proposition 30, and the Molly Munger-PTA initiative, Proposition 38, are both measures that would increase funding for public education.

An overview of Proposition 30 shows that this measure would provide additional revenues to the state general fund to avoid further cuts to public education. This measure would increase sales tax by a quarter-cent for four years and increase the personal income tax rate by up to 3 percent for income earners of $250,000 and above for seven years. The revenues would be part of the state's general fund budget and administered according to state law. While a sales tax increase would affect all taxpayers, new income taxes would be heavily weighted toward the highest earners. This initiative helps the state meet its commitments, but in the short term does not provide additional funding for public education.

Proposition 38 is designed to provide funding directly to school sites and early childhood education sites. The new taxes from this plan are broad-based, but high earners would pay more. This measure would increase the personal income tax for all but low-income earners from 0.4 percent for lowest income individuals to 2.2 percent for individuals earning more than $2.5 million per year. Unlike Proposition 30, this money would be separate and above any other state or local funding.

It provides funding for retirement of state-level debt during the first four years. This initiative is clearly intended to provide supplemental funding for public education to improve California's comparative standing with other states. If neither of the propositions pass, the state will enact trigger cuts, which would further decrease per-student spending by about $375 per pupil. Most school districts may have to cut the school year five to 10 days and negotiate a cut in staff salaries representative of the reduced number of days in order to balance the their budgets.

I encourage you to take the time to do your own research on these initiatives. Resources can be found at VoterGuide.sos.ca.gov/propositions. Most importantly, I hope you cast your vote on Nov. 6 and be part of the democratic process.

Gomes is Merced County superintendent of schools.

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