Editorial: For the sake of students, consider tax

We understand that California’s economic recovery is going to take time, but how long must we sit back and watch our schools suffer?

Make no mistake, California is flunking out when it comes to supporting its students. Kids are being shortchanged not only in the classrooms — where class size reduction reforms are being abandoned —but also on the sports fields, in libraries, art and music rooms and in every other educational venue where programs are being slashed or eliminated. Even bus transportation — once taken for granted — is no longer universally available.

As a jolting example, take a look at what happened last week in the Paso Robles school district.

Faced with the necessity of cutting an additional $4.4 million from the budget, the school board increased class size at every level; cut almost the entire staff of school librarians; eliminated or reduced a slew of programs, including drama, music, art, AVID and GATE; eliminated modest stipends for coaches; and drastically reduced the transportation program by cutting bus stops within three miles of elementary schools and five miles of middle and high schools. While those are among the most drastic cuts to occur in San Luis Obispo County, no district has been immune, and the situation is likely to worsen if we do nothing.

Certainly, Paso Robles and other local communities aren’t going to be able to plug the multimillion deficits that face their school districts. But through a combination of parent and community support, they may be able to salvage some of the enrichment programs — such as team sports, performing arts presentations and academic competitions — that are on the chopping block.

We urge them to do what they can. Private donations, though, can only go so far.

Until California is back on its financial feet, we believe struggling school districts owe it to their students to consider putting parcel tax measures before the voters.

Several districts in California are doing exactly that. In Santa Clara County alone, for example, five districts are conducting parcel-tax elections, with the amounts requested ranging from $95 to $589 per year. Each one of the five districts is exempting older adults, who can apply for a waiver so they don’t have to pay the fee. While we don’t agree with this tack — we believe everyone benefits from a strong system of public education — we recognize how tough it can be to secure the two-thirds majority vote required for passage.

To be clear, we aren’t suggesting that taxpayers should continually bail out Sacramento for its mistakes. Nor do we believe that schools should be exempt from budget cuts.

But eliminating or greatly reducing programs that have benefited generations of students — sports, drama, music, counseling programs, enrichment classes for gifted students, academic competitions — puts our students at great disadvantage.

Participation in such activities can be a steppingstone to careers; it’s all but mandatory for students applying to competitive colleges; it can be a hook to keep struggling students interested in school; and it can lead to lifelong interests that are so important to mental and physical health.

At this stage, we aren’t advocating for passage of a parcel tax at any local school district. But we do believe that students have the right to educational opportunities that extend beyond the classroom. If a parcel tax is the only way to assure that, then local districts would be remiss to let that opportunity pass.