By Dina Martin
Gov. Jerry Brown and San Juan TA President Shannan Brown
In the first of several news conferences, Gov. Jerry Brown joined educators, parents, school employees and a group of students in front of New Technology High School in Sacramento to urge voters to support Proposition 30 and prevent $6 million in new budget cuts to education.
“If we cannot pass Prop. 30, we are taking a half billion out of our colleges and universities and five and a half billion out of our schools. It doesn’t make sense,” Brown said.
Proposition 30, the Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act, prevents deep school cuts and provides billions in new funding by asking the wealthiest in California to pay their fair share to keep classrooms open and police on the street. All tax increases are temporary, and all money goes into a special account that the Legislature can’t touch, requiring annual audits with strict accountability. If Prop. 30 fails, public schools and colleges will be cut by another $6 billion this year. That’s the equivalent of cutting three weeks of instruction off the school year.
School districts around the state have already endured deep cuts, noted Shannan Brown, a California Teacher of the Year in 2011 and president of the San Juan Teachers Association.
“Over the last year, in my school district alone, budget cuts have resulted in hundreds of layoff notices to teachers, dramatic increases in class size for kindergarten through third grade from 20 to 31 students, and a loss of counselors, nurses and librarians,” she said. “And can you even imagine a caseload of 3,000 to 1? Our nurses can, because that’s what they work with every day.”
She explained that San Juan teachers are already taking two furlough days to help the district remain financially solvent, and will have 11 more added if Prop. 30 isn’t passed in November. “This is instruction time our students will never get back, and this will be happening all over the state.”
Community colleges also face a loss of $3.7 million if Prop. 30 fails to pass. In addition, money expected to come in from the dissolution of state redevelopment agencies is not likely to arrive this year.
“Over the past few years, I have seen dedicated, passionate community college instructors disappear from our campuses because of budget cuts,” said Linda Sneed, an English instructor at Cosumnes River College. “Students trying to earn their associate’s degree or complete their first two years of a four-year bachelor’s degree at our colleges have been effectively shut out of our system.”
Under Prop. 30, only the highest earners, couples making more than $500,000, pay more income tax. A quarter cent increase in the sales tax rate will still result in consumers paying less sales tax than they did in past years, before a 1 cent surcharge expired July 1, 2011. The income tax increase will expire in seven years, and the sales tax rate increase expires in four years.
The governor is hopeful that California’s highest-income earners will support the initiative.
“I’ve gone throughout California and asked people: If I could give you a salary next year of $1 million, would you be willing to pay another $4,500 in taxes?” he said. “I’ve not met one person who would turn down that deal.”
In vintage Brown style, he invoked the Gospel of Luke: “To those who much has been given, much will be required.” He added that the state’s highest earners “now have an opportunity to give back.”
As governor, Brown said, he wants to make sure the voters understand the stakes. “The people will decide, and whatever they decide, I will carry out. But my preference, my strong recommendation, is yes on 30 for California.”
“This is the most critical issue on the ballot this November, other than the presidency itself,” he added, “because it’s about the future, it’s about our kids, and it’s about whether California, as a democracy, can make a public decision for our schools and take this responsibility that, for at least the better part of a decade, has been shirked.”
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