The passage of Proposition 30 on Nov. 6 was met with a mixture of relief and trepidation by Owens Valley school administrators and district board members.
Passed by a winning margin of 54 to 46 percent state-wide, the proposition will not add funds to school budgets; it simply will not take any more away. The sources of the funds that ensure approximately $500 per student will not be stripped from school budgets are tax increases: 0.25 percent in sales tax and an increase in income taxes for single filers with incomes larger than $250,000. Opponents of Prop 30 honed in on this issue; the proposition lost in Inyo County, 60 to 40 percent.
The trepidation component comes from the knowledge that if the state of California isn’t fixed, schools will revisit funding issues again, according to Bishop Unified School District trustees Jim Tatum and Carl Lind. “I’m just hoping the state doesn’t look on this as an endorsement,” said Tatum. “People are upset with government, but you can’t sacrifice the kids.” For Tatum, the long-term solution is a stimulated state economy. For Lind, “you can’t fix what’s wrong without a Constitutional Convention. For every initiative, you have to have a funding source,” he said in reference to unfunded mandates voted into existence through California’s initiative system. Unfortunately, neither solution is within the purview of the Bishop school district.
Bishop’s 2012-13 school year budget, had Prop 30 not passed, would have been balanced by pulling more than $800,000 out of the district’s reserves. The budget was developed assuming neither Prop 30 nor 38 passed and that nearly $500 per student would be cut.
In fact, Prop 38 failed by a wide margin. Referred to as the Munger Initiative, Prop 38 would have raised taxes on broader income levels.
For District Superintendent Barry Simpson, passage of the proposition will mean no layoffs. “We’re still 20 percent below our 2007 funding levels,” he said. “But now we can maintain our programs and services without depletion of the reserves.”
Tatum was not as optimistic. “There are still disproportionate cost inflations,” he said, mentioning employee benefits, gas prices for travel and utilities as well as other costs that will continue to increase. “You can’t take the 2012-13 budget and mimeograph it for 2013-14,” he said.
Victor Hopper, superintendent of the Lone Pine Unified School District, agreed. “This is just a temporary reprieve. I’m excited we’re not going to take a beating this year,” he said. “But the reality is this is just a temporary fix.”
Unlike Bishop, the Lone Pine district was able to develop a budget for its schools, assuming a reduction in income, without tapping into reserves. With the retirement of two teachers and three classified employees, the district avoided draconian cuts for 2012-13.
Also unlike Bishop, Lone Pine, Big Pine and Owens Valley districts are Revenue Limit schools, which means property taxes within the districts provide sufficient income to the schools. In theory, all schools receive additional state funding to provide specific services, called categorical, as well as some federal revenues. As a Basic Aid school, Bishop’s property taxes do not meet that minimum and the state provides funds to reach the state’s revenue limit. However, realizing the inequality between the two methods of funding, the state came up with the concept of Fair Share which translates into no funding for categoricals for Revenue Limit schools, according to Hopper. With Fair Share, all schools are now equally under-funded.
Both Big Pine and Owens Valley district superintendents Pamela Jones and Joel Hampton shared Hopper’s sense of relief. Had Prop 30 not passed, the Owens Valley district would have pulled $27,000 out of reserves for its budget; Big Pine’s district would have pulled $200,000. Hampton’s concern was the unanswered questions of how the funding would trickle into local districts’ coffers. Jones was “appreciative of the support of the taxpayers of the state.”
Inyo County Superintendent of schools Terry McAteer was somewhat surprised the proposition passed, considering the “challenging economic times,” but thankful.
“Cutting the school year by two weeks is not in the best interest of the state or the students,” he said, in reference to one alternative for balancing school budgets in the future, had Prop 30 and 38 failed. “Without quality education, California is in trouble.”
Like many, McAteer was following voting results on election night and flipped off the television thinking the proposition would probably pass based on the early tallies of absentee ballots. He was not surprised Prop 30 did not receive a majority in the county. “I understand the mood of the electorate,” he said, “but I am pleased that 40 percent (of county residents) voted for it.”
For Lind, a life-long Republican with seven grandchildren in the Bishop school system, the 2012 election has posed more questions than provided answers. “I’ve voted a straight (Republican) ticket all my life,” he said. “But when the state party came out against Prop 30, I got disgusted.” He talked about the disparity between the education he was able to get through the University of California system, an education that is increasingly beyond even the middle class. “I worked hard all my life,” he said, “and saved. But there are people who have also worked hard and didn’t have the advantages (I did). For them, $25,000 for college is huge.
“Sacramento is broken,” he said. “But you don’t fix it on the backs of kids or poor people. Rich people send their kids to private schools and they don’t go to community colleges … Republicans are irrelevant and they’ve done it to themselves.
“There is no generosity among the wealthy,” he said. “But, we need to go forward in a positive way. We’re all on the same train and have to ride together.”