Prop 30 passage leads to relief for local districts, but questions linger
On election night, school administrators across the state went to bed unsure about the future of their respective districts, as it was still unclear late into the night if Proposition 30 would pass or fail.
By the next morning, it was decided: Voters approved Proposition 30 in a race that had educators hanging on until the last minute.
Proposition 30, championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, is the Schools and Safety Protection Act. Under the law, income taxes will be increased by 1, 2 or 3 percent for those who make more than $250,000 yearly for seven years, and there will be a quarter-cent increase on the state sales tax for the next four years.
The funds allocated from Proposition 30 prevent trigger cuts from occurring at all levels of education that would have come to $6 billion statewide, according to the Proposition 30 website.
Placer County Superintendent of Schools Gayle Garbolino-Mojica said school districts in Placer County avoided decreases between $440 and $450 in revenue limit funding per student, which would have resulted in financial uncertainty in multiple districts.
“If Prop 30 had not passed about half of our school districts would have been faced with running out of cash and in order to rectify that we would have been required to make budget reductions for the fifth consecutive year,” Garbolino said. “The gap left by those budget cuts would have been so substantial we would have had to discuss reductions of the work and school year with the local employee unions.”
In anticipation of the Proposition 30 vote, districts were required by the Placer Office of Education to prepare for the worst by creating two budgets earlier this year – one reflecting the passage of the law and one reflecting the trigger cuts.
Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a conservative organization that has opposed Proposition 30, called the tax package a “gimmick” and that public education should not be used to get voters to approve tax hikes.
“These are going to be difficult times for the people who are working hard to pay the taxes that fuel the machine that is our government,” Vosburgh said. “They’ve basically tried to buy off people who are worried about schools.”
Auburn Union School District Superintendent Michele Schuetz said she had already arranged for at least one furlough day for employees in January if Proposition 30 had failed.
It was also determined that around $600,000 in programs, staffing and other funding would have been cut in the Auburn Union School District if the law hadn’t passed.
“It’s a big weight off of our shoulders. The trigger cuts would have been very, very difficult for us as a small district,” Schuetz said. “We know now there is a lot of work to be done and (Proposition 30) isn’t going to solve all of our issues, but it’s going to stop things from becoming worse.”
Garbolino said district boards of trustees and budget planning committees will have to meet to determine where some programs that had previously been cut could be restored.
As districts most likely won’t see any of the funds from Proposition 30 until potentially as late as May, she added that it is wise to proceed with caution, especially with the amount of money being deferred back to the state each year.
“School districts are not completely out of the woods yet. We still have a large portion of funding being deferred each year and this starts a repayment by the state,” Garbolino said. “But other factors lead to financial hardship, like decreasing enrollment and large debts, so districts need to make sure they plan accordingly to ensure fiscal stability and that they don’t haphazardly use the passage of Prop 30 to create other budgetary problems in the future.”
For example, enrollment dropped within the Placer Union High School District by 63 students, or 4,379 to 4,316 from last year, according to data previously supplied by Doug Marquand, assistant superintendent of administrative services.
Marquand said the district was supposed to receive $7,732 per student last year through revenue limit funding, but due to funding being deferred to the state, the district received $5,569 per student.
That deferred funding, or “deficit factor,” resulted in $7 million in funding last year yet to be paid back to the district by the state.
Placer Hills Union School District Superintendent Fred Adam said while Proposition 30 will decrease the amount of cuts his schools will face, not all have been eliminated.
Aside from the deficit factor impacting revenue limit funding, special education and transportation will not be fully restored. Neither will increased costs stemming from new school lunch regulations or supplemental funding for low income students and English learners.
Placer Union High School District Superintendent Dave Horsey said he is thankful that some programs and services currently available in his district are now on solid ground, at least for a few more years, but he said he thinks the legislature will begin looking at the way schools are funded next year.
Specifically, Horsey thinks there will be a resurgence in the reexamination of the weighted school formula, which was considered by the state legislature last year, but died in committee. A weighted school formula would distribute state dollars based on a district’s population of low-socio-economic status students and English learners, among other factors.
“I think the legislature is going to bring back the weighted formula, which would be a different way in which we receive revenue limit money,” Horsey said. “We’ll have to watch and see what impact that could have on our district.”
“Disaster” averted even at the college level
The looming vote regarding Proposition 30 didn’t just concern schools taking care of kindergarten through seniors in high school. Colleges and universities braced for the decision, as well.
Sierra College President Willy Duncan said in anticipation of the election, the college pushed back scheduling classes for the spring semester until Nov. 19. With the passage of Proposition 30, around 85 sections of core classes will be added to the mix next semester.
“We really averted a disaster in there in public education because we would have had to have made substantial cuts at the community college level, so to be able to keep our students in classes is a very good thing,” Duncan said.
Had the proposition failed, Duncan said around 400 sections would been cut for next year’s schedule and the college would have had to reduce its new fulltime students by 1,100.
“That would have represented a cut of $5 million the college would have taken in trigger cuts in December,” Duncan said.