Among the 11 propositions on the Nov. 6 ballot, local educators say Prop. 30’s failure will directly impact the budget of Laguna Beach’s four public schools.
“If Proposition 30 doesn’t pass, Laguna Beach will experience a $1.3 million cut as of Jan. 1, and this will be an ongoing cut,” said Supt. Sherine Smith.
That immediate loss would be made up by the district’s ample reserves of about $19 million (almost half the total current budget of about $41 million) and forestall any immediate cuts to the district’s programs, said Dean West, assistant superintendent of business services. The ongoing loss of that revenue, though, would require future budget-balancing cuts to halt further depleting reserves, West said.
Prop. 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s ballot initiative to help balance the state budget, would increase personal income tax on those with annual earnings of over $250,000 for seven years and increase sales and use tax by one quarter cent for four years. If passed, state tax revenues would increase by an estimated $6 billion annually in each of the next four years.
If voters reject the measure, the state’s public schools and universities will bear the brunt of the ensuing $6 billion in “trigger cuts.” Specifically, K-14 education (schools and community colleges) would lose $5.4 billion and public universities $500 million and they would be forced to respond to the cuts on their own, whether through drawing down reserves, shortening the instructional year or, in the case of community colleges, reducing enrollment.
“I am very disappointed that the state of California has not upheld its constitutional obligation to fund schools to the levels defined in Prop. 98,” said Smith, referring to a voter-approved 1988 initiative that directs a minimum percentage of the state budget towards K-12 education.
As a result, districts statewide absorbed budget reductions in recent years that forced class-size increases, layoffs, program cuts, and reduced salaries and benefits, with many districts now facing fiscal insolvency. In May the state’s Education Department reported that 13 Orange County schools, including Irvine, Saddleback and Capistrano might not be able to meet their financial obligations over the next two years based on preliminary spending plans filed in March.
Laguna Beach has fared better mostly due to its basic aid funding, supported by local property tax revenue for much of its budget, as well as to internal reductions and strong external support from PTAs, booster groups and importantly Schoolpower. The nonprofit education foundation recently increased its annual contribution towards the district’s budget to $300,000 from $250,000. Still, the state’s fiscal constraints have cost the district $4.7 million in the previous fiscal year, according to director of fiscal services Shannon Soto, and projected reductions could exceed $8 million over five years if Prop. 30 fails.
Should voters reject Prop. 30, Smith said administrators will make internal reductions and identify efficiencies to make up the $1.3 million loss to shield classrooms from the impact. Going forward, though, all expenses and ongoing costs will be considered judiciously, she said.
The results of a recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll published showed that 55% of voters favored the governor’s plan, a decline from a 59 percent approval rating in May.
While proponents of the measure cite the need to stave off automatic cuts to schools and universities, opponents see it as one more tax hike with no guarantees that revenues will reach the classrooms.
“This is not the time to raise the sales tax,” said Martha Lydick, president of the Laguna Beach Taxpayers Association, when reached for comment. “The economy is in desperate need of consumer spending and the extra tax will only deter the public from doing so,” she added.
For her part, school board president Betsy Jenkins expressed deep concern over the measure’s outcome and insisted that now is the time for people to come out and support education. “It will really be devastating for school districts up and down the state if it loses,” she said. “Educating our kids is everyone’s business, and I really hope people in Laguna will vote yes on 30,” said Jenkins. She also said that she personally plans to vote yes on both Prop. 30 and Prop. 38, another education initiative, since if both pass, the state will only implement the one with the most votes.
Prop. 38, generally considered the underdog of the two initiatives, would raise about $10 billion annually by increasing personal income taxes on a sliding scale on annual earnings over $7,316. About three quarters of that revenue would be earmarked for schools, with 60 percent going to K-12 schools and 10 percent going to early childhood programs. The remainder would be used to repay state debt.
“The children of California deserve a top notch education,” said Smith. “And if we don’t provide high quality education for our children, we cannot compete with other states and nations. Further, we will lose our ability to attract the best college graduates into teaching careers if we don’t place the same value on our teachers as our competitors,” she said.