By Dina Martin
GOP members Dale Kennedy, Vicki Soderberg & Bradley Reynolds
Sixth-grade teacher Dale Kennedy is a dyed-in-the-wool, no-tax Republican who feels strong enough about his convictions that he is an activist in the Republican Party.
Yet Kennedy, a member of the Kings Canyon Education Association, spent several weeks this spring collecting signatures to place the governor’s tax initiative on the November ballot, an action that might seem anathema to other members of his political party. Kennedy doesn’t see it that way. The 25-year veteran educator from Reedley, a city in Fresno County, has seen the erosion of public education in California and is doing something about it.
“I believe we can raise revenues by cutting taxes. However, that’s a long-term goal,” Kennedy says. “Right now we’re bleeding at the jugular. That’s why I collected signatures and tried to target Republicans and teachers. We have to put a tourniquet on to stop the bleeding.”
Stopping the bleeding is a graphic metaphor for what’s happened to education in California. Educators are more than familiar with the story.
In the past four years, public education has been cut by more than $20 billion. Class sizes have soared at all grade levels. More than 40,000 educators have been laid off. Art, music, vocational education and after-school programs have been eliminated. School libraries have been closed. Tuition has increased more than 300 percent at state colleges and universities, pricing many students out of getting a higher education degree. Community college courses have been slashed, and classrooms are overcrowded.
That’s why CTA was an early supporter of the Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012, an initiative that will temporarily increase income taxes on high-wage earners while adding a quarter-cent increase to the state sales tax. The measure is expected to generate about $9 billion a year. And if the initiative fails, public education faces an additional $6 billion in budget cuts next year, forcing many districts to consider cutting the school year by 15 more days.
Kennedy, who sits on the Financing Public Education Committee of State Council, would like to see a new model of funding public education developed in California, but until that happens, he’s supporting the governor’s tax initiative.
While sports programs have been cut and facilities have been neglected in Kings Canyon Unified School District where he teaches, Kennedy notes there have been even more dramatic cuts in neighboring districts where teachers have already been required to take furlough days.
“Someone who is unemployed might not be sympathetic with teachers who lose five days, but I’m concerned about the students. And next year the number of furlough days may be increased to 15 days,” he says. “When I was in school, there were just 165 days a year. But what I did in eighth grade they’re doing now in fifth grade. They’ve compressed what we’re expected to do with the kids. All the time in class is precious if we are going to be competitive.”
Vicki Soderberg, president of Capistrano Unified Education Association, is another Republican supporting the tax initiative. Despite the tremendous support of Capistrano schools from parents and the community, Soderberg says, the impact of budget cuts has been dramatic in her district. Salaries have decreased in the district and teachers have accepted three non-student furlough days. Even with the passage of the initiative in November, the Capistrano Unified School District will implement five more student furlough days and three non-student days. If it fails, there will be another 10 furlough days on top of the eight implemented.
“It will be difficult on our teachers because they are already working as hard as they can. If the initiative doesn’t pass, we will have more students in our classrooms, less pay, and less time to teach,” Soderberg says.
Soderberg says CUEA members have been willing to accept their share of cuts, “but we need the public to do their share. We need to support our schools the way we used to. The Brown initiative is a modest way of doing that.”
Bradley Reynolds, who teaches history at CSU Northridge and College of the Canyons, where he is a member of the faculty association, is also a Republican who is supporting the governor’s tax proposal.
“My personal interest is with the college, and I see students being hurt by budget cuts,” he says. “Courses have been cut, the size of classes has increased, and they won’t let professors add students to a class, even if they wanted to. There are a lot of students out there who can’t finish community college in two years or CSU in four years because they can’t get the classes they need. I think it’s terrible that our students can’t afford college and that they are going into debt to get an education.”
For those reasons, Reynolds will work to pass the Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act. In fact, the CTA-affiliated Community College Association plans to launch an outreach campaign to both faculty and students who are voting age.
Reynolds would like to see less government and fewer taxes, but he maintains the governor’s initiative is well-crafted in a way of providing minimum taxation.
“I believe that if there is any place the government should play a role, it’s in providing education, because education is the basis of our democracy. I do think it’s important for Republicans to put up a fight to limit taxes, and I think Democrats have to look at limiting spending. But it’s a mess right now, and they are going to have to work together. Both sides are going to have to give.”