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California and the West

State to Shift Another $1.8 Billion to Schools

Education: Most is expected to be used for teacher raises. In response to Davis' move, union drops plan for ballot initiative.

May 10, 2000|DAN MORAIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — One day after 8,000 teachers demonstrated for more money at the Capitol, Gov. Gray Davis and Democratic leaders Tuesday agreed to shift more than $1.8 billion to local schools, primarily for teacher pay hikes.

Davis' announcement prompted the powerful California Teachers Assn. to drop plans to place an initiative on the November ballot that would have required the state to increase education spending to the national average.

"It's a great, great step in the right direction," David Sanchez, secretary-treasurer of the California Teachers Assn., said of the extra $1.84 billion.

In a move also lauded by Democratic legislators, Davis said the $1.84 billion increase is "by far the largest amount ever contributed" by the state to local school districts for use as they see fit.

Davis arrived at the number by calculating amounts withheld from schools during California's deep recession of the early 1990s for cost-of-living increases.

"This $1.84-billion payment will pay that debt in full," Davis said at a news conference.

The proposal requires legislative approval, and will be a central part of the state budget for fiscal year 2000-2001. Few, if any, lawmakers are expected to challenge the extra money for discretionary use by local school districts.

Davis spokesman Michael Bustamante said much of the money probably will be spent on teacher pay raises, with the amounts to be negotiated by districts and teachers' unions. If districts decide to spend the entire $1.84 billion on the salaries of the state's 250,000 public school teachers, they could expect to receive pay hikes averaging $7,300 a year.

However, during the recession, schools were forced to cut many programs, reducing the number of school counselors, nurses and librarians. At least some of the money probably will go toward restoring such programs.

The $1.84 billion would push the state's spending on kindergarten through 12th grade beyond $27 billion. When local and federal money is added, the cost of California's public schools will approach $50 billion next year.

With the extra money, average annual per student spending in California would reach $6,641, almost $900 more than was spent in the 1998-1999 school year, the last year of Gov. Pete Wilson's tenure.

Davis's proposed $1.84 billion would go beyond the minimum guaranteed to schools under the complex funding formula approved by voters when they passed Proposition 98 in 1988. It is in addition to the $257 million that Davis proposed to spend beyond the minimum in January when he released the first draft of his budget.

Under the state's school financing system, the extra spending will become a permanent part of the school spending base.

The announcement comes as Davis decides how to spend a surplus estimated at between $11 billion and $16 billion, and prepares to release a revised budget proposal next week for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. The entire spending plan will top $90 billion.

"All in all, it is a pretty good deal," Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) said of Davis' plan to increase school spending. Burton gave credit to Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) for negotiating the deal last weekend between the administration and the teachers union.

"If [the teachers] weren't going to buy off, it wasn't going to work," Burton said.

The teachers' union Tuesday began delivering signatures to county election offices across the state in a final step toward putting their initiative before the electorate. Once the agreement was announced, they stopped.

"We have suspended and put a halt to it," Sanchez said.

Davis and many legislators had opposed the initiative, believing the measure would place too many restrictions on lawmakers when they prepare their annual budgets.

Sanchez said the union, which has shown an ability to spend $20 million or more in an election, now plans to put its effort into defeating an initiative that would allow parents to use tax-funded vouchers toward tuition at private schools.

Referring to the teachers' potential initiative, Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga, leader of the Senate's minority Republicans, said: "It looks like their threat was successful. They got what they wanted. You'd have to commend the CTA for mobilizing their members and using their resources very effectively."

"It is a pay raise," Davis spokesman Michael Bustamante said. "It goes to the schools and the schools bargain for the amount."

Brulte said California should spend more on schools than Davis is offering. "We think there is enough room in the budget to do $3 billion," Brulte said.

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