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Schools brace for looming tax vote

Initiative would not bring any new education funding
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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The unpredictability of whether or not Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative will pass has local school districts and institutions of higher education reading tea leaves while they prepare their budgets and, at times, preparing for the worst.

Proposition 30, or the Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act, will be on the November ballot. If passed, it would use increases to income taxes for higher-income earners and up the state sales tax to address California's budget deficit and prevent cuts to public safety and education, according to the Proposition 30 website.

Opponents of Proposition 30 say that it is wrong to use education as a way to get the tax initiative pushed through.

Income taxes would be increased by 1, 2 or 3 percent for those who make more than $250,000 yearly for seven years under the measure and there would be a quarter-cent increase on the state sales tax for the next four years. If voters reject the tax initiative, around $6 billion will be cut from school budgets.

Gayle Garbolino-Mojica, superintendent of Placer County schools, said the county office of education advised school districts to plan their budgets for the next three years as though the tax initiative will fail. Districts are required by law to draft budgets for the current year and two subsequent years.

"With Gov. Brown's tax proposal we wouldn't get any more money than we got last year, but without it we would be at the lowest point we've been at in the last 10 years," Garbolino-Mojica said.

She added that districts will get around $441 less per student if the initiative fails and of Placer County's 16 school districts eight will run out of money either by the 2013 or 2014 school year if the initiative fails and they don't figure out where to make deeper cuts.

Those districts are Roseville City, Western Placer, Rocklin Unified, Roseville Joint Union High, Loomis Union, Eureka Union, Placer Hills Union, and Auburn Union.

"Everyone is aware of it, but they're going to have to do some real direct budget planning and really bring in stakeholders, like parents, teachers, the community, and come up with a real, workable plan for how they will cut for the next two years," Garbolino-Mojica said.

In the Auburn Union School District, Superintendent Michele Schuetz, her chief business officer, Monica Williams, and the members of the district's budget committee will meet in September to discuss where cuts can be made if the tax initiative doesn't pass.

Williams said the Auburn Union School District will have to cut around $600,000 in programs, staffing and student per year if that's the case.

"Financially we've cut and cut and cut down to the point where there's not a lot of cutting that can be done. We've cut so much now we're really going to have to look at ways to address how this is going to affect our students," Williams said.

At Auburn Union's Rock Creek Elementary, Principal Suzanne Flint said budget reductions have already impacted her school, which has an increasing enrollment.

On Thursday, she watched a class of first-graders play educational games on outdated computers in a lab, which they get to use once every week. The school can't afford to have someone on campus to address any technological needs, but Flint said the Parent and Teacher Club pays for a technological assistant that comes for one hour everyday.

Ninety percent of the students at Rock Creek qualify for free or reduced lunch, so the school receives Title I funding, but Flint doesn't know if her school can take any more budget cuts.

"If we were to have more cuts, I don't even know what we would do at that point," Flint said.

Fred Adam is both superintendent over the Placer Hills Union School District and principal at Sierra Hills Elementary. He said his students still get to go to the library once every week with a certified librarian and still have physical education and music classes partially thanks to donations from the Parent and Teacher Club and the Placer Hills Education Foundation.

But he's not sure that will be possible in a few years if Proposition 30 fails with $441 less to spend per student.

"We love having music classes and think that the arts are extremely important, especially for kids at this age, but by law we're not required to provide those classes," Adam said. "So when a district is looking at making reductions they have to first look at those non-required classes, I'm sorry to say."

Public education all the way up to California's colleges that receive state funding would be impacted if the tax initiative fails. Willy Duncan, president of Sierra College, said his financial office has had to draft two budgets for the upcoming year, one that shows the tax initiative passing and another in case it fails.

Duncan said Sierra College will be in similar shape in the next year even if the initiative fails because of the reserve funds the college has accumulated over the years.

The failure of the initiative would mean the state would provide funding for 1,000 fewer full-time students at Sierra.

"My personal sentiment is that I don't like the way this was structured. I don't like education being used as the bait to get a tax package through and that's kind of what I feel we are right now," Duncan said. "We're being put out there and the voters are being told ‘if you don't pass this thing, you're going to lose education,' and quite frankly I think education is too important to do that."

Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a conservative organization that focuses on tax law, not only feels that education is being used as a way to get the tax hikes passed, but also that more needs to be done before any increases are considered.

"This is the legislature saying ‘give me your wallet or the schools get it,'" Vosburgh said. "They don't want to reform pensions, spending or education to shift the money out of the bureaucracy and into the classroom because this is an excuse to get more money out of the taxpayers."

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.