OAKLAND — A statewide ballot measure in the May 19 special election has created a big rift in the education world, even though an accompanying proposition would return $9.3 billion to public schools.
The powerful, 340,000-member California Teachers Association has endorsed Proposition 1A, one of six measures included in a bipartisan budget deal to address the state's $42 billion shortfall through 2010. The measure would cap spending and increase the size of California's "rainy day" fund — and, its supporters say, would likely prevent further immediate cuts to the state's public schools.
But one of the teacher group's largest local affiliates, the Oakland Education Association, has broken ranks on this issue. Other groups unhappy with the CTA's endorsement include the California Federation of Teachers, the California Faculty Association and the California School Boards Association. They say 1A appears to be just another quick fix that wouldn't solve the state's persistent budget problems, and that the spending caps would lock public schools into low funding levels and put public services and universities at greater risk of cutbacks.
"It's not comfortable to be in the position of disagreeing with our state organization," said Betty Olson-Jones, president of the Oakland Education Association, which represents about 2,800 teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians in the city's public schools.
Still, Olson-Jones said, "We really cannot, in all good conscience, support any measure that would cap and cut vital social services, because they are needed by our students."
Proponents of Prop. 1A, which include the Association of California School Administrators and the governing boards of California's two public university systems, argue that the measure would help shield schools from further fiscal uncertainty amid the state's fiscal crisis and ballooning deficit.
David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, said that if these measures don't pass, state lawmakers would have to forge another agreement to balance the state budget — a process that could be disastrous for schools and the state as a whole.
"The ultimate losers, if this initiative fails, will be our students," Sanchez said.
New Field Poll numbers, released Wednesday, showed that only 40 percent of likely voters support 1A, and that California voters oppose five of the six measures.
Lillian Taiz, a history professor at Cal State Los Angeles and president of the California Faculty Association — another dissenting CTA affiliate — said the measure is absurdly complex.
"The words 'linear regression' would be in our constitution if that bill passes," Taiz said. "I've got a Ph.D., and I couldn't understand it to save my life."
Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Association, argues that the $9.3 billion that would be returned to public schools under Prop. 1B — which would take effect only if 1A passes as well — already belongs to schools under the minimum funding provision of the state constitution.
Such divisions, even among groups with similar interests, have made the decision more complicated for public education advocates.
Jody London, a new Oakland school board member who is chairwoman of the board's intergovernmental relations committee, said she has fielded numerous e-mails from constituents, asking for voting.
"I tell them that I'm totally conflicted," London said. "On the one hand, you hear it's the best we're going to get. On the other hand, you have people I really respect saying, 'No way. This is horrible,'"" she said.
"It's just bad policy," London said, adding that she's worried about the fallout if the measure fails.
if voters OK Prop. 1A?
Source: California Secretary of State's office