Simitian: June tax extension crucial for K-12 education

Governor's 'draconian' budget is the 'good news' version, senator says

The "draconian" state budget proposed last month by Gov. Jerry Brown is the "good news" version, State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, told a crowd of educators Saturday.

That budget -- cutting sharply into higher education but leaving K-12 unscathed -- entirely depends on voter approval of a five-year extension of taxes that are set to expire this year.

If the June measure fails, schools face the "really scary" prospect of immediate cuts amounting to $800 per student, Simitian said.

Simitian spoke to about 180 school board members, administrators and others who packed the board room of Palo Alto school district headquarters. The former Palo Alto school board member, now a member of the Senate Education Committee, holds semi-annual "education updates" that draw constituents from Capitola to San Carlos.

The governor currently is seeking the handful of Republican votes needed for a two-thirds majority to place the tax extensions on the June ballot, Simitian said.

"The vast majority (of Republicans) have signed a 'no-tax pledge,' and they're quite clear that to them that means not letting the public vote on revenue measures or even an extension of existing taxes," he said.

"So it will be a struggle to get even two-thirds in the Assembly and Senate to sign on, and that's going to be essential."

The June measure sought by Brown would extend for five years a February 2009 bump in the state sales tax, a partial restoration of the Vehicle License Fee level and a surcharge on income tax. All three are set to expire July 1.

To get business on board for the extension, Democrats are posing the threat of a split roll property tax or a California oil-severance tax if the June measure fails.

"As I talk to business leaders, one of the points I've made to them as we ask for their support on this June ballot measure to continue this broad-based system of generating revenue is, if it fails, efforts for a split roll will be coming their way very quickly," he said.

Proposition 13 remains the untouchable "third rail" of California politics, Simitian told the education-friendly crowd.

"Even a relatively modest proposal -- for a 55 percent parcel-tax threshold to let local voters decide how to spend their own local taxes -- generates a two-page ad in the Sacramento Bee that calls it an assault on Proposition 13," he said.

"So wholesale reform is not likely in the immediate future."

Simitian said educators should contact GOP legislators to urge them to place the tax-extension on the June ballot, and to be active in the June campaign "to help people understand the magnitude of cuts absent this additional revenue."

In a rough outline of the state's $86.5 general fund budget, Simitian said 40 percent goes for K-14 education (including community colleges); 10 percent for higher education; 30 percent for health and welfare, 10 percent for prisons and the final 10 percent for "other."

The governor, as well as the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst, have said the state faces a $24.5 billion shortfall in the period between now and July 2012.

Brown has proposed a package of $12.5 billion in cuts; $12 billion in additional revenue, which includes the June tax extension as well as some inter-fund borrowing.

"These numbers will change day to day, week to week, but that's the rough outline," Simitian said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Earl Richards
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2011 at 11:18 am

Brown's budget proposals are ridiculous, because a few members of the opposition will not vote for the budget and Californians will not vote for higher taxes. So what is Brown's real budget? What is Brown up to?

Like this comment
Posted by Carlito Ways
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2011 at 11:22 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Noel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2011 at 11:53 am

Gov Brown, Simithian and everyone else in Sacramento have their hands tied by Prop 13 and the crazy laws that make it all but impossible to raise taxes. It is a given that CA will continue to spiral downwards until Prop 13 is repealed so that taxation is spread more equitably. All that Brown and Simithian can do is to try to mitigate the long term damage caused during this downward spiral. We can fix our roads 20 years from now but we cannot fix an entire generation of kids "educated" in over crowded, bankrupt schools. I am glad we have a few people in Sacramento fighting for the right priorities.

Like this comment
Posted by Pete
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 7, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Hand out an education voucher (scholarship) to every parent of a school-age kid in this state, then let the parents decide how to use it in a private or public school. Then watch the unionized teachers run like rats off the sinking boats.

No need for more taxes!

Like this comment
Posted by RussianMom
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Pete, what will you do with the voucher? Who will educate kids whose parents are unable to supplement to government voucher for private schools? that will only create stress at the younger age. Acceptance to private schools will be more like university madness. And, Pete, I agree. Coming from communist country and having first hand experience - unions are tumor of progress. Let the bad teachers go and free funds for progress...

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Posted by Albert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2011 at 3:34 pm

> If the June measure fails, schools face the "really scary"
> prospect of immediate cuts amounting to $800 per student,
> Simitian said.

And what does this $800 "cut" mean in terms of student education? Given the already poor performance of California students, how does this loss of funding relate to their performance? Sure .. teachers see this as a loss of salary and benefits, but what about the students?

The school system has seen constant increases in funding for decades now, and still the performance is mediocre. This loss of funding is not going to be seen in any meaningful way, such as a 10-point drop in API scores, are high school graduation rates.

The schools need to take a "haircut", just like everyone else.

Like this comment
Posted by Edward Moritz
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 7, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Dear Mr. Simitian, Mr. Brown and the rest of the California Legislature......

Until there is a FIX to the outrageous Public Employee Pensions - CalPERS - there will be no real solution to the California Budget Crisis.

Put an Absolute CAP of $100 K on a pension payout to ANY member of CalPERS and then we can talk about a ballot measure to consider extending our already high tax rates. Have the CAP start in two years. That will provide time for all employees receiving those extraordinarily generous pay levels over $100 per year to start doing what those who don't work for the government (know as the majority) do. Start a savings account or investment fund with a portion of their own money. And the CAP will not affect the majority of government employees, just those paid enough to take care of their own future.

The P.R campaigns threatening budgets for schools, public safety, libraries and public parks are getting old. We hear the same song every time government budgets get tight. All these budgetary items will be threatened every year into the future until this unsustainable program of wealth transfer from the private sector to the public sector is addressed. OH! That's right. Mr. Simitian, Mr. Brown and all the other legislatures are on the CalPERS scheme. So their pensions are the problem they don't want to solve. Their pensions come before school budgets and the rest of the services that governments are suppose to provide their citizens.

Mr. Simitian.....Until you have the manhood to establish a clear and certain FIX to Public Pensions, then the citizens have to alternative but to vote NO on tax extensions.

Like this comment
Posted by Pete
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 7, 2011 at 6:03 pm

"Pete, what will you do with the voucher?"


I would make the voucer just large enough to allow the free market to figure it out. For example, if the voucher was for $10K per student, 200 students would deliver $2M to a start-up school. Such a school could have 9 teachers (22 students per class). That leaves room for one administrator. Allow for 10% facility rental fee ($200K per year), and that leaves $1.8 M for salaries (average = $90K).

Each start-up school would need to satisfy their customers (parents). Get the job done, or go out of business, no excuses. No unions, either.

Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2011 at 6:48 pm


I think you will need to recalibrate your voucher amount. Stratford I believe rents out the old Garland elementary school for $600,000/year. Add to that utilities, maintenance, insurance.

Also teachers in private school will need benefits (even if they are Social Security), so figure a 20-25% of salary cost there.

Like this comment
Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 8, 2011 at 9:05 am

Pete - One of the biggest problems with your approach is a lack of space. Schools are maxed out right now at 22-26 students per class and there are no classrooms left on a campus. Portables are on every campus for class-size reduction and there are no schools left to open. Even if someone wanted to open a charter or private school in PA they'd be hard-pressed to find a location. Schools were shut-down and turned into condos or housing in the late-70s/early-80s when enrollment dropped so sharply.

Like this comment
Posted by Steveo
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 8, 2011 at 9:28 am

People get a grip. Schwarzenegger destroyed CA financially and we ALL have to do our part to get ourselves out of the debt he caused. His focus was on making the state greener, thus ignoring what was important, you know, the difficult stuff. He has proven himself to be excellent at not understanding priorities.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 8, 2011 at 10:27 am

Some have the idea that throwing ever more money at a huge bureacracy might NOT be the best way for education.

An international perspective from The Economist:

"The results show that many countries get excellent results without spending much money, whereas others such as Britain have splurged to no avail. According to Andreas Schleicher of teh OECD, only 9% of the variation in achievement can be explained by how much is spent. High achieving countries have large classes taught by great teachers. Poor performers employ less effective teacheres for smaller classes, recruiting the extra staff from further down the ability range....Helpfully, the study contains insights into how the system that educates pupils differs from the rest. They have raised teachers' status by making it harder to become and remain one. They publish individual schools' results, and allow the best more autonomy than the others."

"The best or the rest - academic excellence - British schoolchildren are falling farther behind those elsewhere" from The Economist, December 11, 2010, p. 68 (article concerns international academic skills rankings among 15yo children from "OECD" countries)

Like this comment
Posted by Garden Gnome
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 8, 2011 at 12:21 pm

I would be keen to see the annual school budget per pupil, in constant dollars, since Proposition 13 was enacted.

As you all know, if California's budget would have increased in line with inflation and population growth, we would not have a budget deficit today.

As for the current Governor. Yes, he didn't help. But please let's not forgot that we've had the same party rule the state legislature since, well, for a VERY long time.

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Posted by Pete
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 8, 2011 at 1:56 pm

@"common sense": I used the $10K figure to make it easy to understand. It might take more per student, but I would allow the market to figure that out. Start-up schools need not be limited to public school campuses, like Garland. For example there are a number of private schools that have taken over abandoned industrial buildings in Palo Alto.

@"Erin": Space is where you find it. For example, Kehillah, on Fabian, took over an existing industrial building. There are an awful lot of commercial buildings, in Palo Alto, that are empty. Why not fill them up with a new business, called 'education'?

These start-up schools will develop their own endowments, over time. Then they can decide if they want to purchase a building, or not. No more bond issues, or parcel fees or public teacher unions. Almost as importantly, no more TENURE! A teacher can either do the job, or not; if not, they get fired, on the spot.

This is not rocket science.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Folks, You are mostly wasting electrons, since PAUSD is funded better than about 95% of California school districts. There are 58 Basic Aid districts, or 59 if you count MVWSD which recently became one. There are over 1,000 school districts around the state from 400 students to 400,000 students. Vouchers might work in urban areas with lots of kids and plenty of empty buildings. What about rural school districts. One size does not fit all, but our choice of funding sources and a couple of court decisions have given us one size fits all except for a couple of lucky exceptions like PAUSD. Joe's meeting was here because he served on our school board and lives here. Compared to Mass, NY, and NJ, Californians have chosen repeatedly to fund a "third world" public education system while educators work hard to deliver and the really affluent pay extra to send their kids to private school. First to Worst should not be a motto for anything in the world's eighth largest economy!

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Posted by Pete
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 8, 2011 at 3:10 pm

@ "Steve": We want the best, reasonable, public/private system. A voucher system would give a scholarship to every parent in the state. These parents can cash it in at any school they choose. The parents will decide if their kids are getting a decent education, or not. They will no longer be under the thumb of the teachers' union. This system will probably be at least as advantageous to the rural students, as the urban ones.

When given a choice, via vouchers, parents tend to make wise choices. At present they are stuck with what they are told to get used to.

The enemies of vouchers are the teachers' unions and the educational establishment. Freedom of choice is not in their vocabulary. A starving state budget will probably change some minds.

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Posted by mompa
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 8, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Pete you have a great idea. Probably 2/3 parents will still send their kids to the local one. But if active parents could come up with some creative solutions to education that would be wonderful. Maybe home-school part-time and meet part time in a charter school. Especially with internet access these days, there are some interesting possibilities. If enough parents would do this, I think this would put pressure on our public schools to improve and be responsive to the constituency that they should be serving.

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 8, 2011 at 9:05 pm


There are quite a few private schools in Palo Alto or close by (Stratford, Challenger, Keys, Castilleja, Girl's Middle School, Bowman, International School), and the tuition ranges from 15,000 to 33,000 per year.

A school can't just take an industrial building - what about space for physical education, and other subjects? Then there is the adimistrative side, especially keeping up with State & Federal requirements.

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Posted by Pete
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 9, 2011 at 11:46 am

@"common sense": You are quoting some tuitions from relatively elite schools. You failed to mention fees at parochial schools, for example. You also did not consider home schooling, which is private.

Parents can figure it out, if they have a voucher. Voluntary associations of parents, to educate their own kids, should have few federal or state mandates...more or less the same as the home schooled students, or parochial schools. The administrative costs need not be high.

Regarding physical education space, that is a choice to be made by the parents. Some parents will think it is very important, other will not. Some parents think violin lessons are very important, others not. However, if they are allowed to choose, they will figure it out. Imagine that a school has a great music program, but no football program! Also, don't forget about after-school club sports and programs.

Academic standards in private schools will also be controlled by the parents. Most parents want their kids to able to get into college, thus the entrance exams, such as SAT, will provide the 'stick' to keep up the standards. Many parents will want their children to achieve at a higher level, thus a focus on math, science, literature, music, etc.

Educational vouchers were such a good idea that the teachers' union insisted that President Obama cancel them in Washington, D.C. I happen to like our current president, but I have to say that he is under the control of the unions, and that hurts our education system.

It is important to force real choice in California education. Throwing more money at it will not work.

Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Feb 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Government does an absolutely terrible job providing service value for money. It is beyond me why anyone would support shoveling more cash into the bottomless pit of government.

Like this comment
Posted by No
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 10, 2011 at 5:15 am

I will vote no on any taxes, period.

California must fix its spending problem. If that happens, I will reconsider my position.

I see no sense in giving more wine to a drunk.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 10, 2011 at 6:23 am

In times past when there was a problem at the local level we could always expect the State or the Feds to bail us out - NO MORE. Every level of government is running deficits. Job grow is stagnant, housing prices continue to slide, property tax revenues are stagnant, sales tax revenue is stagnant and income tax revenues will probably decline.

The ride is over and now we have to pay the piper. We have NO choice but to cut local agency budgets and to restructure public employee pay and benefits. Some politicians will try to hold off on these measures but that will just make the day of reckoning even more painful.

Sadly education, at all levels, will have to share the pain.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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