John Deasy, Ph.D. Superintendent, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Special to the Mirror By all accounts 2005 will be a defining year for public education. 2005 will test our leadership as we protect students, the will of the people, and voter-approved Proposition 98. It will be a defining year as we call on each and every elected official to work with us to ensure adequate funding for our public school system. The most important fact about how we are funding our schools seems to be getting lost in the fuzzy math surrounding Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget. Are we getting more? Are we getting less? How much more or less? It seems we are not asking the most important question of all: Is California adequately funding its schools? The answer is a resounding and undisputed “no”. It is important not to be ashamed to speak the truth in terms of school funding in California. California school spending is among the lowest in the nation. In the recent “Quality Counts” report by Education Week, California was ranked 44th in the nation in per–pupil funding in 2001-2002. And since then we have suffered dramatic cuts, pushing us to near the bottom of the nation in per-pupil funding. A recent study by the RAND Corporation corroborates these findings and notes California’s K-12 school system has fallen from the national leader 30 years ago to its current ranking near the bottom in nearly every objective category. Even the most cursory read of this report is a chilling reminder of just how far California has fallen in both support for education and the effort to pay for adequate funding for education. A recent state-by-state comparison of academic standards by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation notes California’s academic standards are the highest in the nation. While California holds it schools and students to the highest expectations, the Governor’s budget proposals would cut California’s spending even further this year. In short, we expect the best from our students and schools and offer them the worst in support to achieve this demand. We must be engaged in a truth-telling mission. To protect our schools and our students, we have an obligation to explain how the Governor’s proposed budget breaks his promise to students and how his proposed amendment of Proposition 98 exacerbates what is already a crisis situation in terms of adequacy of funding for public education. The proposed budget and the actual small increase it contains, when considered after the last few years of dire decreases do NOTHING to offset the $9.8 billion in cuts our schools in this state have suffered in recent years. In terms of Santa Monica-Malibu, this is approximately $16 million dollars in lost and cut revenue in the last three fiscal years. Let me help put next year’s budget in context. Last year, public schools and the students of our schools through the efforts of the Education Coalition agreed through a negotiated process with the Governor to a $2 billion dollar cut with the Governor’s promise that more harmful cuts would be avoided in the future. The Governor’s budget proposal breaks the commitment to students and schools despite the fact that state revenues are actually higher than was projected when the agreement was approved by the legislature. In the last four years, California schools have suffered more than $9.8 billion in cuts. Amongst others statewide, these have translated into loss of teachers, higher class size, and devastating shortages of supplies and classified personnel. We in Santa Monica-Malibu have had some of these critical shortages mitigated by the remarkable generosity of our Cities, our citizens, and our parents. Yet, still we have lost nearly $9 million dollars of services and personnel resulting in a reduction of administrators, staff, faculty, and the support for many programs. There is simply nothing left to reduce if we want to remain proud of the incredible achievement our students demonstrate in all parts of our educational program: the arts, the academics, the languages, and the advanced academics, along with sports, and extracurricular programs. California voters approved Proposition 98 to protect schools and students from harmful budget cuts and to set a minimum level of education funding (regardless of how far below this minimum is from nearly all other states). Not only does the current budget do nothing to California’s very real problem of under-funding of public education, it makes it worse. And, the Governor’s attacks on Prop. 98 undermine the education funding protections the voters say they want. He proposes suspending voter-approved Proposition 98, and then eviscerating what’s left of it with a new, debilitating Constitutional amendment. Unlike the state, school districts must deliver a balanced budget by the end of June. The Governor’s education proposals threaten the foundation of our education system. The impact of his proposed state budget on the Santa Monica-Malibu schools would be devastating next year – and for a generation to come. We must assume the Agreement of last budget cycle between the Governor and the Education Coalition is to be broken and voided. The impact of this proposal is the loss of anticipated revenue to the State’s public schools of nearly $2 billion. In terms of Santa Monica-Malibu, this would have meant receiving funds owed to us under the agreement (and Prop. 98) of nearly $6 million on top of the proposed (and actually reduced) cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2005-2006. In the Governor’s proposed budget is a COLA and growth on paper of nearly 5%. In actuality, the budget takes back a significant percentage of this money through the deficit-reduction formula, and thus the actual new money from the State is an increase of 3.23% per student. This is an increase of approximately $194 per student over last year. For Santa Monica-Malibu this translates into $2.3 million new money from the State to run the schools. However, without cutting any programs or staff, and without budgeting for any increase in compensation for any employee, our budget will require approximately $6 million new dollars to operate at the status quo. Here’s why: The cost of maintaining the salary schedules of our employees (without any projected raise): $2 million; The cost of returning to the mandated deferred maintenance reserve of 3% as required in the Governor’s budget; $1 million; The cost of the Governor’s proposed certificated retirement new impact for schools: $1.2 million; The cost of the Governor’s proposed classified retirement new impact for schools: $0.3 million; The cost of increased workers’ compensation insurance premiums: $0.7 million; The increased cost of operational expenditures i.e. fuel, electricity, insurances, etc. is expected to fluctuate, but at this time we estimate $0.8 million. In short, the expected impact on the budget today for our local school district is approximately $6 million in additional costs, but there is 3.8 million less new dollars to operate our same program next year than this year. How will we close this gap? Recommending the types of cuts such as school staff, faculty, and programs is unconscionable. There is simply nothing left to cut without dismantling education in our schools as we know it. Our community, parents and our city council have more than made up for the state’s deplorable lack of financial support for public schools. And as a result we have seen remarkable growth in student achievement. California’s students are our most important resource. We need adequate and increased reliable funding for our schools and proposals from the Governor that invest in our most important resource and give them everything they need to succeed. We need proposals from our Governor that signal that he understands the state of woeful and inadequate funding on top of dramatic cuts to our public schools. We must demand the state and our Governor keep their promises, adequately fund our schools, and increase future support for public education in this state.
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