THESE ARE tough times for parents with kids in schools and the public employees who serve them.

The state teacher's union postured last week with its public whining over education cutbacks — remember, the union is all about political power. The fact that the Democrat-dominated Legislature agreed to the education cuts shows how dire the economic situation is in California. A $42 billion shortfall over 18 months will do that.

More importantly, you should be concerned about the dedicated young teachers across the state and here in the Valley who will receive notices of potential layoffs this weekend. The San Ramon Valley district will send out 155 notices, while Pleasanton will issue 228 notices.

For school districts, which receive about 40 percent of state expenditures thanks to Proposition 98 (which the education lobby convinced voters to pass during a bad budget cycle in the 1990s), there's no way to spare them the budget pain that is being felt across lots of government today.

Property taxes, which could be counted upon to climb steadily through most of the last two decades, have instead plummeted. Sales taxes also have plunged as consumers stopped spending. And personal income taxes for the wealthiest Californians, who contribute 48 percent of the revenue, have fallen as well with the economic cycle.


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Ironically, the thread of what went wrong for education leads back to Proposition 13, which voters passed in 1978 to slash property taxes after local governments rode the ever-increasing taxes to higher revenues without regard to the plight of the homeowners.

The unintended consequence is that funding for kindergarten through 12th grade education was shifted from the local property tax base to the state general fund and its unreliable revenue streams. Thus, local residents have no say over how much money is spent on education — with the exception of parcel taxes.

The state doles out the rest and does so very unevenly. Baseline state funding here in the Tri-Valley ranges from a high of $6,456 per student in Dublin to $6,199 in Pleasanton to $5,665 in Livermore to $5,501 in the San Ramon Valley. Revenues in the affluent San Ramon Valley put it in the bottom five of the unified districts across the state.

Both San Ramon and Pleasanton have parcel taxes going before the voters this year. San Ramon nearly won approval in November and will be back with a mail vote for a $144 per parcel tax for seven years due back by May 5. Pleasanton trustees will ask voters for a $233 per parcel tax for four years.

Of course, the economy and how the public is feeling about their family checkbooks is the giant unknown. In the Dougherty Valley in San Ramon, residents already pay supplemental taxes for city services as well as the cost of the new schools in their mortgages. If the parcel tax advocates can get parents to vote yes, they're almost 40 percent there.

In Pleasanton, where the school-age population is smaller, it's an open question as to whether the required 66.7 percent of voters will approve the tax. Earlier, trustees and district leaders received some resistance when the idea of a parcel tax was floated as a way to help the district reach its excellence goals.

Now that $10 million of cuts are on the table, the question is whether that will change the equation enough for voters who are feeling the pinch in their checkbooks and watching their retirement accounts shrink almost daily as Wall Street votes on the Obama presidency and its priorities.

The challenge for school districts is to approach tough times like Fed-Ex does, instead of like manufacturers who simply slow production and layoff people. Fed-Ex must continue to deliver its routes so layoffs are limited.

Instead, the leadership took 10 percent salary cuts, while the rank and file took 5 percent. All shared the pain to keep the company strong.

In Pleasanton, a 1 percent salary reduction across the board saves $1 million. The numbers are similar in other districts. How refreshing it would be to see the education community rally together in that way — sharing the burden — and what a message it would send to voters being asked to dig into their shrinking checkbooks.

Tim Hunt is the principal with Hunt Enterprises, a communications and government affairs firm. He is the former editor and associate publisher of the Tri-Valley Herald. Contact him at huntenterprises1@comcast.net.