English teacher Kimberley Gilles put off grading two piles of "To Kill a Mockingbird" essays to staff a phone bank Sunday and urge San Ramon voters to approve Proposition 30, the tax hike to help stabilize California schools and government, and a local bond measure.
Susan Canty of Los Altos Hills has been living and breathing Proposition 38, another tax measure to increase state school spending. This week, she was urging Mountain View and Los Altos PTA volunteers to spread the word among members.
Teachers such as Gilles, 56, and parents such as Canty, 55, all hope to save education from potentially devastating budget cuts, but each camp is crusading for only one of two tax measures offering different tax solutions. If both propositions 30 and 38 pass, only the one winning more votes will go into effect.
The state's largest teachers union has dispatched platoons of teacher-campaigners, aiming for each of the state's 10,282 public schools to get a visit. The union is stumping for Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's initiative for a quarter-cent sales tax and an increased income tax on the wealthy, to avoid massive midyear cuts.
"Nothing is more effective than a one-on-one conversation," said Eric Heins, vice president of the California Teachers Association. "Our members are very motivating."
With only a fraction of the budget and organizational expertise, the state's largest parent organization is rallying its officers to support Proposition 38, bankrolled by civil rights attorney Molly Munger, to lift California from the cellar among states in per-pupil spending by imposing a sliding-scale income tax increase.
On Proposition 30, "I decided a teacher's voice needed to be heard," said Gilles, 56, who said likely voters were receptive to her pitch when they heard she was a teacher. She told them, "The children you see walking down your sidewalk need your financial involvement."
Gilles is volunteering her time. Others, like San Jose teacher Kevin Thompson and Jennifer Thomas are partly on the CTA payroll, working to persuade colleagues to not only support, but also campaign for Proposition 30 and against Proposition 32, which would ban union deductions from paychecks.
Both campaigns aim to bring home the intensifying threat to education. San Jose Unified had to cut $15 million to balance this year's budget. "We'll lose another $14 million instantly just to stay solvent," Thomas warned as she spoke after school last week to about half the teaching staff of Hacienda Elementary in San Jose.
"We're asking you to share that information with your friends, family, colleagues and neighbors," he said.
The snappy presentation with just enough detail appeared to do its job; after half an hour, teachers picked up "Proud educator and voter" and "No on 32/Vote/Yes on 30" pins. They asked for lawn signs; CTA had so far sent out only "No on 32" ones.
Since August, a brigade of eight teachers has targeted each campus in the other 30 school districts in Santa Clara County. One of the campaigners, Thompson, found a capable classroom substitute so he could devote half his time to campaigning, with the CTA reimbursing the Union School District for his absences.
CTA spokesman Mike Myslinski would not say how much the union has budgeted for the political campaign.
"It's a grim future for my students if something doesn't happen," said Thompson, who's in his 22nd year of teaching. "Educating my colleagues is the only thing I can think of that is more important than educating my kids."
Although potentially having broader reach on the ground, the PTA campaign appears less organized, lacking the crisp edge of the union operation. With television ads launched only last week, Proposition 38 supporters have struggled to make inroads amid staunch Proposition 30 support and hostility from teachers, the Democratic Party, newspaper editorials and others often counted on as education's allies. Even the League of Women Voters declined to endorse it, remaining neutral instead.
Talking points are filtering both from the state PTA down to the school level, and in reverse as well. Nancy Krop of Palo Alto has created a PowerPoint she's presenting at Palo Alto PTA-sponsored events and covering the dismal and complex reality of state school funding. "This is a project I've been working on for three years," she said, when she lived in another district and was shocked to find her then-first-grader without art, music and PE. "Why," she asked then, "is my son's generation going to get a much worse education than mine did?"
Campaigners for both propositions 30 and 38 go to lengths not to bad-mouth each other's initiative.
When asked about the governor's initiative, Krop responds, "40 percent of voters will vote no on any new revenue measure." If the remaining 60 percent of voters splits, neither proposition will win a majority, she tells her audiences, "You do the math and figure out what you think is the right thing to do."
Likewise, Thomas tells teachers, "Now is not the time to raise taxes on the middle class," but adds, "You decide which one looks best for public education."
Teacher Gilles tells people she's not opposed to the goals of Proposition 38. "It's hard for me to turn away from the PTA." But she also fears the midyear cuts that will be triggered if Proposition 30 doesn't pass.
She doesn't discuss the measures in her English classes nor leave leaflets in the classroom. But she wears her campaign button every day.
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.
Raises income taxes by 1 percentage point on individual income exceeding $250,000, 2 percentage points on income between $300,000 and $500,000, and 3 points on income of more than $500,000. Extra tax would be in effect from 2012 to 2018.
Raises state sales tax by a quarter cent from 2013 to 2016.
Raises income tax, progressively, starting with a 0.4 percentage point hike on those with taxable income of more than $7,316, with the highest boost -- 2.2 percentage points -- on those making more than $2.5 million. Tax hike would be in effect from 2013 to 2024.
An average of $6 billion annually when both the sales and income tax are in effect through 2016, with revenues dropping slightly in the final two years.
An average of $10 billion annually.
Revenues would raise the Proposition 98 guarantee, which means more money for schools, but revenues would also be used to balance the budget.
For the first four years, $6 billion would be used for schools, $1 billion for child care and preschool and $3 billion for debt payments. From 2018 to 2025, larger shares go to schools, child care and preschool -- and debt payments would decline.
If both initiatives pass, the one with the most votes will take effect.
Source: Legislative Analyst's Office