Politics & Government

Battle lines are drawn on Proposition 30

Cal Poly rodeo team member Clayton Brown says he would need to apply for bigger loans to stay in school if tuition rises at the university. Brown, 20, is an ag systems management student.
Cal Poly rodeo team member Clayton Brown says he would need to apply for bigger loans to stay in school if tuition rises at the university. Brown, 20, is an ag systems management student. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

If a tax measure on the November ballot fails, Cal Poly students will shell out more in tuition to attend the university.

Cuesta College students could see as many as 29 programs — nearly 40 percent of all the programs offered at the community college — eliminated.

And leaders of kindergarten-through-12th-grade public school districts will face tough decisions about future cuts.

Proponents say Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s temporary tax measure, would stabilize education funding. Without it, they say, San Luis Obispo County’s K-12 districts would lose about $15.6 million, Cal Poly would face a $14.5 million hit, and Cuesta College would have to cut nearly $3 million.

Opponents, however, say the initiative is another needless tax increase that doesn’t guarantee education funding and allows state leaders to once again dodge fixing underlying problems. 

Another tax will only burden Californians further, they argue, and deter businesses from moving or expanding. 

The measure has received most of its campaign donations from union groups, but some businesses have also donated, including energy companies such as PG&E, entertainment businesses and health care organizations, according to the San Francisco Chronicle and MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization that tracks money’s influence on politics.

Meanwhile, wealthy GOP activist Charles Munger Jr. has poured millions into a campaign to defeat Proposition 30, according to MapLight and news reports. His sister, civil rights lawyer Molly Munger, has spent nearly $32 million to support her plan to raise taxes to help, according to MapLight. Her measure, Proposition 38, is competing with Brown’s on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Brown’s plan would increase the sales tax by a quarter-cent for the next four years, and would raise income tax for Californians earning more than $250,000 per year for seven years. (For example, a single person who earns $300,000 after deductions and exemptions would pay an additional $500, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. A higher taxable income would fall under a larger marginal tax rate.)

Revenues would 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, a nonprofit organization that engages in independent fiscal and policy analysis.

Proposition 38, meanwhile, would raise income taxes on those earning as little as $7,316 per year for 12 years. Revenues would be deposited into a new trust fund and allocated to K-12 schools, according to the California Budget Project. 

Higher education is not included in the measure — meaning if Proposition 38 passes, community colleges and universities still face massive cuts. And Proposition 38 doesn’t insulate K-12 schools from state reductions.

It would also generate money for specific school purposes but take away authority from school boards on how that money is spent, instead requiring individual schools to allocate it, said county schools Superintendent Julian Crocker.

“It is questionable public policy,” Crocker said. “It does not give the local boards flexibility to make decisions. I prefer more general purpose money in control of a locally directed board.”

It’s not surprising, then, that many local educators are urging voters to approve Proposition 30, though they are cautious not to overstate what it would achieve. 

“It will allow California schools to maintain a flat level of funding,” Paso Robles Schools Superintendent Kathy McNamara said. “And hopefully also limit further cuts.”

Some of the 10 K-12 school districts in San Luis Obispo County have already made cuts to prepare for the possible loss of state funding, Crocker said. Others have used one-time money from reserves to fill any funding gaps that might occur this year.

If Proposition 30 fails, schools will lose about $456 per student. For example, Paso Robles High would have to cut about $894,000; San Gabriel Elementary in Atascadero would lose approximately $240,000; and Nipomo Elementary would lose about $213,000.

If it fails, layoffs would be imminent at some schools this year, Crocker said. It’s likely that classified staff would be targeted because of state regulations that require teachers to receive advance notice if their jobs are going to be terminated.  

School districts would also be given state approval to eliminate up to three weeks of classroom time.

“The question is whether local districts will have to resort to that,” Crocker said. “School districts tried to cushion this year’s program against severe cuts. However, next year will be a different story.”

Restoring programs

If Proposition 30 passes, some educators said they hope to restore programs or positions that have been cut during numerous rounds of budget cuts and layoffs. It will be up to individual school boards to determine how to spend the money.

McNamara said district officials will discuss all the cuts the Paso Robles district has made — from arts and music programs to furloughs to layoffs — and decide what could be reinstated.

For the Lucia Mar district, Proposition 30 would allow the county’s largest school district to maintain the status quo “more or less,” said Donna Kandel, president of the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association.

“It may free up some funds for things that have been deferred for a long time,” she said. “It might give us an ability to fill positions that haven’t been filled, like librarians, and support staff like classroom aides.”

In the past five years since the economy took a nosedive, school districts have whittled down their teaching and support staffs, increased class sizes, cut programs, and in the case of the Paso Robles and San Miguel districts, imposed furloughs and shortened the school year. 

“I get it that most people are feeling this recession pretty heavily, but those of us in teaching are feeling the same things,” said Kevin Statom, a 39-year math teacher who has spent 29 years at Arroyo Grande High.

Lucia Mar teachers have not received a cost of living increase in five years, he said. Class sizes have jumped; about a quarter of the 500 classes at Arroyo Grande High have 35 or more students.

Also, some Lucia Mar schools saw their test scores slip this past year, which Statom attributes to increased class sizes and other cuts.

“It’s getting to a point where it’s negatively affecting, I believe, the students’ education,” he said.

Hits to higher education

Cuesta College students will see some programs cut regardless of whether Proposition 30 passes. But the outcome of the November election will determine the depth of the cuts.

Community college officials released a list last week of 29 programs that will be ranked for possible elimination. The college has already cut $3 million from its budget this year in anticipation of the proposition failing.

If it passes, the college will receive an infusion of money in June to compensate for the withheld funding. 

If it fails, the college will receive an added $2.85 million hit, resulting in Cuesta not being able to serve 650 full-time-equivalent students and 200 class sections impacting up to 1,000 students in the spring and summer semesters.

In April, Cuesta trustees approved a plan that cut $3 million to balance the college’s 2012-13 budget, eliminating 26 positions and laying off 16 people. Even if Proposition 30 passes, Cuesta will still have an $800,000 budget gap to close.

“The strategy is to reduce the size of the footprint of the college,” President Gil Stork said. “The trustees decided that it was necessary to reduce the number of programs we offer in order to strengthen the ones we do keep.”

The state Legislature determines how much community college students pay per unit for classes. This summer, students started paying $46 a unit, up from $36.

Students at Cal Poly face a different kind of hit — this one to their wallets.

Several students said they’ve already seen tuition gradually increase throughout their college years. Just last spring, students approved a “student success fee” to raise $8.5 million a year and provide classes that would otherwise have been cut, said Larry Kelley, Cal Poly’s vice president for administration and finance.

A three-phase implementation of the fee will raise the cost of attending Cal Poly by $780 a year by 2014, to about $9,500, excluding new increases.

If Proposition 30 fails, students face an additional $300 tuition increase per year. At that point, Cal Poly students would be paying 69 percent of operating expenses at the university through tuition and other fees.

The increase means some students would likely have to take out more loans.

“It’ll be tough,” said 20-year-old Clayton Brown, an agriculture systems management student who has seen his tuition rise to about $9,000 a year, not including the cost of rent, books, food and a $345 annual parking pass. Brown, also a member of the Cal Poly rodeo team, relies mostly on scholarships and student loans.

“When I do graduate, it’s not looking pretty,” he said.

Cal Poly estimates the total cost for an undergraduate, including tuition, books, and room and board, at $24,858 this year.

Cal Poly administrators have already built the estimated $14.5 million loss, should Proposition 30 fail, into this year’s budget. However, one-time funds of more than $11 million are being used to do so.

Kelley said it’s too soon to speculate what cuts would occur to offset the funding loss in coming years, but they could take the form of higher student fees, a smaller enrollment size or cuts to employee benefits.

If the proposition passes, students will get slight relief as a $500 fee reduction will be authorized. That fee was added in the fall to help offset the budget deficit.

Cal Poly has seen its state funding drop significantly over the past five years. At that time Cal Poly received $150 million, Kelley said. If Proposition 30 passes, the university will receive 

$82 million — a 45 percent cut in five years.

If it fails, Cal Poly will take a 55 percent hit over that time period, with state support dropping to $67 million.

Propositions ‘a crutch’

Opponents of both 30 and 38 call the measures deceptive tax increases that give schools a crutch without solving underlying problems.

“In education we have a tendency to say, whatever the problem is, let’s throw more money at it,” said Christopher Arend, a Paso Robles lawyer and member of the county’s Republican Party Central Committee.

Instead of dipping into taxpayers’ pockets, the governor and legislators should confront the state’s problems and work toward solutions that would increase revenue, such as making the state more attractive to businesses, he said.

Arend pointed to an annual survey of 650 CEOs across the country. Executives were asked which states are best and worst for business, and ranked California dead last for the eighth consecutive year. 

“You cannot improve the business climate by raising taxes,” he said. 

Supervisor-elect Debbie Arnold, who opposes both propositions, agreed.

“Making California the highest sales and income tax state in the nation will drive businesses and jobs away, resulting in decreasing revenue,” she said in an email.

Gary Kirkland, president of the Libertarian Party of San Luis Obispo, also opposes the measures because they raise taxes. Kirkland is also a 35-year teacher with the Templeton district who has seen class sizes increase and staff laid off.

He said he’s concerned about what will happen should the measures fail, but called them a crutch.

School districts should pursue long-term solutions, he said, such as partnering more with private corporations including oil and tech companies. “There’s no reason that Cuesta College couldn’t have a sign saying, ‘This campus supported by Google,’ ” Kirkland said. 

When confronted with limited budgets, officials with K-12 districts, colleges and universities will find ways to cut, Arend said.

“If Proposition 30 fails, pity the student having to pay an additional $300 per year in tuition,” Arend said in an email. “Why, that’s about one less large latté with whipped cream and a caramel swirl per week the poor student will have to do without!”

Campaign fund facts

Millions of dollars have been spent to sway voters on Propositions 30 and 38. Here is information from the California Secretary of State’s Office on how much money has been raised and spent on the two initiatives. The data were as of Friday afternoon.

PROPOSITION 30

Support

  • Total contributions received: $66.6 million
  • Total expenditures made: $40.7 million

Oppose

  • Total contributions received: $27.9 million
  • Total expenditures made: $20.9 million

PROPOSITION 38

Support

  • Total contributions received: $28.3 million
  • Total expenditures made: $26.8 million 

Oppose

  • Total contributions received: $518,500
  • Total expenditures made: $522,192
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