by Laurie Frater
Many of us who will be voting at this election will remember growing up watching Little House on the Prairie on TV, seeing Laura Ingalls first as a student at Walnut Grove’s one-room school, then as the teacher in that same schoolroom. The community members in Walnut Grove were all mindful of the fact that Mrs. Olsen, owner of the Mercantile, was the single largest source of funds for the school – and were frequently reminded of that by no less than Mrs. Olsen herself.
A lot has changed in the hundred-plus years since Laura Ingalls attended school - not least in the way that schools are funded. Over time, we’ve moved away from schools that were almost exclusively funded by local philanthropists, to those that are funded largely out of property taxes - but with the state providing “equalizing” funds to areas like Pacifica, where property taxes fall far short of meeting the state minimum-funding targets.
That worked reasonably well until a few years ago, when Sacramento managed to dig us into a financial hole so deep that it will continue to cause us problems for years to come. Cuts were inevitable in a downturn, but we’ve now seen year-upon-year state reductions in education funding that have had the hardest impact on schools like ours which depend on state contributions to reach those minimum funding levels. You can only “do more with less” for so long, before the depth of the cuts reaches into classrooms and adversely impacts the education that we’re able to offer our kids. Unfortunately, we’ve passed that stage already, which is why the Jefferson Union High School District voted to place Measure P on the November ballot.
Measure P is a 4-year, $96/year parcel tax, with an exemption for seniors and an oversight committee. It is similar, in almost every respect, to Measure N, passed by Pacifica voters two years ago, which has been of almost incalculable value in allowing the elementary school district to minimize the cuts it has been forced to make. Measure P is the high school equivalent of the elementary schools’ Measure N.
A few people have asked me why, if the high schools saw this coming, didn’t we use the funds spent on playing fields, pools and new classrooms, instead of asking for additional funds from voters. That’s a fair question, and the simple answer is that the law requires school districts to maintain two separate bank accounts – one for facilities and one for operating expenses – which must never be commingled. The building fund – using funds from the bond measure passed by voters in 2006 - has been used to upgrade campus buildings and facilities, and cannot be used to pay for the books, technology and teachers’ salaries for which Measure P funds will be designated.
We all hope that Sacramento will soon turn the state economy around, returning us to the days of at least adequate funding for the schools in our community, but until the state economy improves, we are faced with a stark choice: Given that school districts must, by law, balance their budgets every year, do we cut programs and teachers at our high schools, limiting our students’ ability to compete in the 21st century workforce, or do we bypass Sacramento completely and provide a local source of funding (that Sacramento can’t touch) to keep on maintaining and improving our schools, until the state economy recovers? If, like me, you believe that our kids shouldn’t be made to suffer for Sacramento’s mistakes, please join me in voting Yes on Measure P on November 2nd. Thank you.
Laurie Frater has one child in each of the local school districts, and is a member of the JUHSD (Jefferson Union High School District) Board of Trustees.