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Superintendents paint dire picture if California's Prop. 30 fails

As Gov. Jerry Brown's revenue-raising proposition loses support, school superintendents say class sizes could grow, cherished programs could die and jobs will be lost.

October 27, 2012|By Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times
  • "What we face is the biggest challenge in public education since the state of California was founded," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, seen in 2010.
"What we face is the biggest challenge in public education since the… (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles…)

As children peered at them through an elementary school fence in Cerritos on Friday, about a dozen school superintendents explained the consequences they will face if California voters fail to approve Proposition 30.

In Whittier Union High School District, class sizes — some already exceeding 40 students — will continue to grow. In Inglewood Unified School District, a $30-million deficit will double and the current school year will immediately be shortened by four weeks. In ABC Unified School District, which serves mostly Artesia and Cerritos, sports, arts and after-school programs — currently unscathed by $30 million in cuts in recent years — will be pared.

"If Prop. 30 fails, we're talking about a bloodbath," said Supt. Dale Marsden of the San Bernardino City Unified School District. The district will slash about $10 million from programs for gifted students, music and sports and cut 160 positions.

Voter guide: 2012 California Propositions

Proposition 30, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would add a quarter-cent to the state sales tax for four years and impose a seven-year tax hike on California's highest earners. The money raised by the measure — up to $8 billion in the current fiscal year — would prevent a $5.5-billion cut from primary and secondary schools and a $250-million reduction in each of the state's two public university systems.

Among the speakers, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy spoke most strongly about the ramifications of the proposition failing. He said 15 days will be cut from the current school year, leaving students without a classroom in which to take Advanced Placement exams and high school seniors without graduation ceremonies. For the school days that would remain, he is unsure the district would be able to pay for transportation of special education students. "It is immoral what is taking place," he said.

Other speakers used equally strong language in describing the cuts. Whittier Union High School District Supt. Sandra Thorstenson called the resulting setbacks "unconscionable," and state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson described them as "almost unthinkable."

"What we face is the biggest challenge in public education since the state of California was founded," Torlakson said.

But opponents of the measure argue that the educators are hyperbole-prone. Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., said that if the measure fails, he expects the Legislature and governor to back down from more cuts under pressure from the powerful California Teachers Assn.

"It is disingenuous and they are using schoolchildren as shields," he said. Voters react negatively to that approach, as reflected in recent polls, he argued.

A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll released this week shows that less than half of voters planning to cast ballots are in favor of the measure. Only 46% of registered voters supported the initiative — a 9-point drop over the last month — while 42% opposed it.

A rival tax measure backed by Pasadena civil rights attorney Molly Munger polled far less support than Proposition 30 — with only 28%. Prop. 38 would increase taxes on anyone with an annual income of more than $7,316 for 12 years to raise about $10 billion a year, nearly all for education and childhood development programs.

Voter guide: 2012 California Propositions

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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