Prop. 30 win means big sigh of relief for schools

Narrow passage of initiative to fund education will ease budget struggles locally

clambert@thetribunenews.com acornejo@thetribunenews.comNovember 7, 2012 

San Luis Coastal Unified School Board member Mark Buchman speaks in favor of Proposition 30 during a rally in September at Cuesta College. Joining him were other local education leaders, teachers and students.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

The narrow passage of Gov. Jerry Brown’s temporary tax measure, Proposition 30, will ease some budget struggles for local public school districts, Cuesta College and Cal Poly.

While local educators said Proposition 30 won’t recoup the millions of dollars that have been cut collectively from their budgets in the past five years, the initiative softens the blow they were expecting to take this school year.

The measure’s success means that Cal Poly students won’t face a tuition increase next fall, and K-12 school districts now have a reprieve from mid-year budget cuts.

Cuesta College still plans to cut 10 programs, but that’s less than half of the 22 programs that could have been eliminated if the measure had failed, college President Gil Stork said Wednesday.

“It takes some pressure off having to turn around and reduce 200 sections of classes,” he said. “But there is still some trimming and work on scheduling that we have to do to achieve more efficiency for what is being offered.”

Proposition 30 increases the sales tax by a quarter-cent for the next four years, and raises income tax for Californians earning more than $250,000 per year for seven years. The sales tax increase is effective Jan. 1, 2013, and the income tax increase starts with the 2012 tax year.

Revenues will increase funding for K-12 schools and community colleges and free up general fund dollars to help close the state’s budget gap, according to the nonpartisan California Budget Project.

Statewide, the measure passed with 53.9 percent of the vote. San Luis Obispo County voters followed the same trend, with 53.1 percent approving the measure. The county was one of 25 in the state that supported the proposition.

In a statement, state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson said: “Passage of Proposition 30 means parents and students across the state can breathe a collective sigh of relief, knowing that our schools will have the resources to stay open for the remainder of the year.”

Without the measure, local education officials estimated that the 10 public school districts in the county would have lost an additional $15.6 million this school year — about $456 per student.

“It’s wonderful in terms of stopping the cuts and enabling our local school districts to start to rebuild,” county schools Superintendent Julian Crocker said.

“My only caution is we’ve had five years of severe cuts … so it’s not going to turn around immediately,” he added. “But we won’t have the mid-year cuts and when we build our budgets for next year, it’s a much more positive picture than it would have been.”

Some of the districts made cuts to prepare for the possible loss of state funding. Others used one-time money from reserves to fill any funding gaps that might occur this year.

The Lucia Mar district set aside about $4.6 million. Teachers, district administrators, and other stakeholders will meet to debate how best to use the money, with the ultimate direction made by the school board, said Raynee Daley, assistant superintendent of business.

“I think everything is on the table,” Daley said, adding: “It’s not as simplistic as undoing the cuts of four years ago. We will be looking to align the resources to what we need to get done.”

In Paso Robles, a district that has weathered layoffs, larger class sizes and more recently, furloughs, Superintendent Kathy McNamara released a statement thanking those who supported Proposition 30.

She said district administrators will work with union members to “establish priorities as we move forward in the development of our budget.”

It was not immediately clear how the measure’s passage might affect the furloughs the teacher’s union agreed to take this school year, which will result in eight fewer school days.

Higher education

Proposition 30 gives Cal Poly students a reprieve. They’ll no longer have to pay a $300 annual student fee that would have occurred in January. In addition, students will receive a refund for $500 for an annual tuition increase that began this fall.

Cal Poly stood to lose an estimated $14.5 million if the measure had failed. That loss of funding was already built into this year’s budget, but more than $11 million in one-time funding was being used to offset it.

The sustained funding likely prevents further enrollment cuts and reductions to employee benefits, which were discussed as possibilities had the measure failed.

Journalism major Sean McMinn, 20, said that tuition has gone up at least four times since he enrolled at Cal Poly.

“We are at now at a level that hopefully administrators will be able to keep us stable,” he said.

Last spring students approved a “student success fee” to raise $8.5 million a year and provide classes that would otherwise have been cut. The fee remains in place.

At Cuesta College, the cuts were also minimized. The gain to students was not a financial savings, but continued access to programs.

Cuesta College still faces about $800,000 in cuts — a harsh reality but still brighter than the $1.5 million reduction in programming cuts that would have happened had the proposition failed.

The community college in mid-October released a list of 29 programs -- about 39 percent of all the programs offered at Cuesta -- that were ranked for possible elimination.

Now, of those, only up to 10 programs will have to be reduced. Cuesta trustees will decide on Dec. 12 what programs will be cut.

The college will also still have to cut about $700,000 from its operational costs, including possible personnel reductions.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929 and AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat and @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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