Education rises to top of Senator’s concerns
During a whirlwind visit to the Eastern Sierra portion of his district, State Senator Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) had some coffee talk with constituents in Bridgeport Monday morning, and said his two main priorities are public safety and education. When it comes to the latter, he’s concerned about Governor Jerry Brown’s 2011-2012 fiscal year budget, which he said isn’t a really a “budget,” in the strict sense. Brown’s spending document was passed in June along a strictly party-line Democratic vote, with no Republican support.
The final budget, which Gaines posits included an additional $11 billion in spending added at the last minute, relies on $4 billion in “anticipated” revenue that has to show up in order to avoid triggers that will mean substantial cuts, especially to public schools and higher education.
Gaines outlined a couple of scenarios that could end up rosy or rocky for schools, depending on how the next couple of months play out.
First, he talked about the budget, particularly the “anticipated” revenue. July figures came in about $500 million short of expectations. Gaines added that August came in a bit better, though still off at least $150 million. While trying to remain optimistic, Gaines also voiced concerns about what he thinks could be a slow down in the state’s economy.
He is, however, willing to give Brown credit where it’s due, and lent his support to a push by Brown to abolish more than 400 local redevelopment agencies, which could be worth as much as $5 billion in revenue savings. The legislature recently passed two bills, AB26x1, which eliminates the agencies, and AB27x1, which allows the agencies to come back into existence if they pay billions of dollars to the state.
The agencies, Gaines thinks, are little more than cash grabs for big developers who vie to curry favor with their legislators. Gaines was a key part in killing redevelopment agencies. As the lone Republican who crossed party lines and supported AB26 in the Senate, he helped provide a decisive swing vote.
Eliminating redevelopment agencies, he indicated, could mean an additional $1.75 billion freed up for law enforcement and other needs, including an additional $400 million for schools.
Brown’s first attempt had previously failed on a two-thirds majority vote. But it was switched to a simple majority bill because the measure doesn’t deal with the financial aspects of redevelopment.
Both 26 and 27 are tied up in litigation at the moment, but Gaines is remaining cautiously optimistic that the governor will prevail. “Nobody’s going to get everything they want, but it’s progress, and we’ll take what we can get,” Gaines said. “I’m fully committed to working with the governor and my colleagues on the other side of the aisle.”
Gaines’ wife, Beth, is newly elected to the Assembly (taking over the seat Ted vacated when he won the Senate seat). She gave an impassioned plea on behalf of 26, which she supported along with four other Republicans. All Republicans in both houses voted no on 27, though most other Republicans sided with the redevelopment lobby on 26.
Locally, few are as concerned about the shortfalls in expected revenue than Mammoth Unified School District Superintendent Rich Boccia and Business Manager Valorie Gale. The first trigger, Gale pointed out, is scheduled for Dec. 15, at $1 billion under, which is already looming uncomfortably close. At that point, MUSD estimates a loss of about $40 per student. Should that shortfall reach $2 billion under, cuts will directly hit the classroom and MUSD estimates an additional $260 per student loss, meaning approximately $312,000 of cut funding.
“With $18 billion in cuts to education over the last 3 years, we’ve streamlined everything we can, from class sizes and staff ratios,” Boccia commented. “This isn’t scare tactics, this is reality.” Part of that reality, he added, means that passage of Measure S, the $59 parcel tax renewal, is more important than ever.
“Last year, we were able to use the $660,000 more [from the tax] for enrichment, but the way things are going, this year it’s going more toward staples. We’re picking up more in the way of salaries, library expenses, counselors and other programs, such as music.”
The District is already covering unfunded state and federal mandates of $800,000 in special education costs out of the General Fund. Without Measure S, Boccia and Gale explained, MUSD could easily face $1.2 million in cut funding, including cuts in Class Size Reduction mandates that would be unable to be met.
Education, Boccia insists, could have a huge impact on crime, which at a cost of $53,000 annually per prisoner would soon pay dividends to law enforcement. “And California has some of the highest education standards, but in terms of funding, we’re $1,400 per student below the national average. If we could get at least up to that average, that would mean an additional $1.7 million to the District; we can do a lot with that,” Boccia observed.
The 5-year extension of the Measure S parcel tax goes before the voters in November. Boccia and the District are already in the midst of a vigorous “get out the vote” campaign.