Local PTA gathers signatures for Munger initiative | April 6, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 6, 2012

Local PTA gathers signatures for Munger initiative

Palo Alto campaign part of state PTA effort to qualify education tax measure for November ballot

by Chris Kenrick

In book clubs and exercise groups across town, Palo Alto PTA volunteers are gathering signatures for a November income-tax initiative to raise funds for California public education.

The local PTA effort is part of a statewide PTA push to gather a share of the 500,000 signatures needed to qualify the so-called Munger Initiative, launched by Los Angeles lawyer Molly Munger.

Munger's initiative would raise state income tax rates for most Californians for the next 12 years to raise about $10 billion a year for preschool and K-12 education.

A rival initiative by Gov. Jerry Brown, also in the signature-gathering phase, would increase state income tax for earners over $250,000 for seven years, and boost the state's sales and use tax by a quarter-cent for four years. Eighty-nine percent of proceeds would go to K-12 schools and the balance to community colleges.

Brown's proposed initiative has the backing of the California Teachers Association.

State PTA officials have endorsed Munger's initiative — and also had a hand in drafting it.

Palo Alto PTA volunteers aim to collect at least 2,000 signatures. Statewide, the PTA has pledged to come up with 100,000 signatures, and Munger has said she will fund a paid signature-gathering effort for the balance needed to qualify for November's ballot.

The Munger initiative "really does reflect the priorities parents have been expressing to the PTA for years," said local signature organizer Sigrid Pinsky, vice-president of advocacy for the Palo Alto Council of PTAs.

"We've gotten behind the right initiative. It's a really good bill from the PTA's point of view," Pinsky said.

"This is new money for the schools — that's a really important piece — and also it's in a lockbox for local control. It doesn't go through Sacramento."

In the local campaign, volunteers at each of Palo Alto's 12 elementary schools were asked to gather 120 signatures. Signature goals were higher for volunteers in middle schools and high schools because of larger enrollments at that level, Pinsky said.

Palo Alto volunteers hope to have their signature drive completed by April 10, she said.

Signature-gatherers have been asked by the state PTA not to campaign on school property, so volunteers have used alternative means — carrying petitions around in their purses, taking them to book clubs, coffees or setting up tables to catch foot traffic near schools, such as one in Mitchell Park.

"I'm spending a lot of time explaining this to people," she said.

"Not everybody pays attention to all the initiatives that are coming up, but once people understand it we're getting a lot of signatures. People say we need to do something, and this seems to most of the people I'm talking to like a really good path because it accomplishes debt reduction and is over 12 years — a very sustained period of time," Pinsky said.

Molly Munger, who calls her proposed initiative "Our Children, Our Future," is the sister of Palo Alto resident and physicist Charles Munger Jr., who bankrolled California's Proposition 20 in 2010.

That initiative, which passed with 61.2 percent of the vote, shifted control of Congressional redistricting from the State Legislature to a bipartisan citizens' panel.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2012 at 9:01 am

I don't believe the PTA should be doing this. Fundraising is one thing, but this is a political issue and the PTA has no right to be involved in political issues. They obviously know this as they are doing it outside schools and the PTA is a school organization and should be working on school issues inside schools.

This smacks of their involvement in the library bond, their tactics are to make people feel guilt ridden into signing or voting yes. I strongly disapprove and will tell them if they approach me.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 6, 2012 at 9:06 am

The PTA's mission is to be a child-advocacy group, I can't think of anything more appropriate than advocating for a consistent form of funding for our schools. Especially one that keeps the funds local.

Posted by It's True, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 6, 2012 at 9:15 am

It is true the PTA has an explicit political advocacy mission, which includes a lobbying infrastructure at the state and federal level, supported by local dues. So they are doing what they tell people they will do, which seems fair.

I actually don't like it much either, and would prefer to simply dis-affiliate and become a PTO. But that would make us fairly unusual around here, and good luck convincing people to assess and vote on an issue like this when you can't even get a quorum at most PTA meetings.

Posted by Former Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 6, 2012 at 9:20 am

Advocacy is a core mission of the PTA. Edcode requires the signature gathering be done outside of school campuses

Mission Statement of the California State PTA

The mission of the California State PTA is to positively impact the lives of all children and families by representing our members, and empowering and supporting them with skills in advocacy, leadership and communication.
Adopted by the California State PTA Board of Managers, Oct 2009

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2012 at 10:00 am

Good intentions, but all this does is help enable Governor Brown to spend money on pet projects like the High Speed Rail. In the last year alone, over $140 million was spent on the High Speed Rail for planning, studies, consultants, etc. This $140 million is enough money to restore the proposed 2 week cut in the school year for 200,000 kids. There's other state spending as well that could be found in various other pet projects that Governor Brown is protecting that could restore many of his othere proposed cuts to education

Posted by Why I left the PTA, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 6, 2012 at 10:15 am

This is why I left the PTA. They consistently side on the wrong side. Stealing is not the way to fund our dreams.

I feel the same about simply taking more from someone to fund schools that I do about everyone in a restaurant voting that the richest one in the room should pay for all the meals..it is wrong, it is theft, and I defend the right to keep what you have earned to spend as you wish.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 6, 2012 at 10:25 am

Why is it assumed by these and other groups that more money always equals better education?

Shouldn't they be required to show a quantitative beneficial effect of better student scores directly relating from the requested additional tax dollars before we have our personal earnings squeezed yet again for the billionth time?

Posted by realitycheck, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 6, 2012 at 11:08 am

This initiative would penalize the poor and lower income of the state to contribute to a big government money pit. Even the most cursory study of educational history will show that more money has done nothing to improve education and if there is a correlation to derive based on graduation rates it's that more money has done harm. The problem is the power of teachers' unions to prevent reform, innovation, improvement -- or to protect teachers (power of the union) at the expense of students/children. Wake up!

Posted by FrankF, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 6, 2012 at 11:28 am

FrankF is a registered user.

> Why is it assumed by these and other groups that more money always equals better education?

Because if you look at any qualitative ranking of schools you can clearly see that the best schools are the ones that spend the most per student. There are occasional anomalies but these are rare. The evidence shows more money will get you better educated students.

Posted by For Our Children, a resident of Triple El
on Apr 6, 2012 at 11:34 am

There are many problems with our state government and it's ability to provide funds to educate our children, but this initiative is one of the better I've seen. The money does not go to the state. It will be put into a "lock box" and distributed to local School Districts who will then distribute the money to individual schools, putting the money where it is needed and letting the districts and school determine how best to use the money. This money can not be reallocated for pet projects by anyone. In the first 4 yrs part of the collected money will go to pay off the debt we already owe on educational "loans", thus reducing interest we are already paying. This initiative includes a sliding scale tax increase, from 1/4% to 2.2% depending on one's income level, so it does not penalize the poor.
Until someone has the guts to tackle prop 13, this seems like a good alternative to educational funding.

Posted by paresident, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2012 at 11:46 am

PTAs should not be doing this..teachers unions in California have too much power as it is without turning parents into willing sheep. Why are billionaires like Mollie Munger so eager to raise my already high taxes?

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2012 at 12:00 pm

How can residents/parents who work in a globally competitive economy subject to regular layoffs support teachers and bureaucrats who are completely shielded from any such vagaries through out their working and retired lives and keep getting mandated ever escalating compensation when for most people its violently up and down? Unsustainable I think..you can only squeeze so much from a turnip.

Posted by Jim, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2012 at 12:09 pm

There is no such thing as a government funded "lock box". Those funds must be invested. They are typically invested in government bonds. Jerry Brown would love to have that money to invest in High Speed Rail bonds.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 6, 2012 at 12:42 pm

The problem with education lock boxes or other initiatives that designate single use funds is that the state always works around it. For example, let say the lock box fund gives $10...well in a crunch, the state will just reduce it's contribution to the general education fund.

So, yes, there is designated money. But the variable budget money from the state can still be tampered with.

Posted by A, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 6, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I agree with the goals and need, but as others have pointed out, all that is accomplished by having these allocated sources of funds is to allow the budget writers to reduce the other sources of funds. Remember the lottery was supposed to be the savior of education, but now it is just a source of uncertainty in the budget.

If you think the legislature needs discipline in setting priorities, then the initiative should mandate the minimum spending on education.

Posted by Burl, a resident of Barron Park School
on Apr 6, 2012 at 2:37 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm

One thing is clear is that the state of California has not been a good steward of our tax money. Sorry to be skeptical. I will not sign this proposed initiative.
It seems better ideas are turned away and the CA state legislature continues to spend, spend, spend. It is scary.
I am reluctant to raise taxes without extremely well-documented (in a continuous fashion) reforms and reductions.
I don't believe the "lock box" concept, either. Can someone comment on the state lottery (I don't gamble) - I thought all this money was promised to "go to the schools" - and hasn't something else happened..
At the most basic level as an active citizen, sometime back I contacted relevant CA politicians/representatives concerning a great idea to reform the massive deep hole of CA public education spending. This idea, which has popped up occasionally, is to initiate consolidation of (some) CA school districts (perhaps offering incentives) as this would result in efficiencies and perhaps operational improvements with reduction of bureaucracies, and then I have read a prominent nonprofit community leader (I think - president of Community Foundation Silicon Valley) undertook a strong, visible effort to propose this - all to a dead end. Sacramento politicians are unwilling to consider ANY reforms to the outrageous, high-cost union controlled public education in the state of California.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 6, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Follow up - I think Whisman Elem. School District and Mt. View Elem. School District merged a few years ago and it has worked well, according to what I have seen in the Mt. View newspaper on occasion. I think there was plenty of kicking and screaming in advance of this reasonable government consolidation (I expect some administrative people were laid off - one superintendant, perhaps) yet there was indeed consolidation of facilities, expenses in a geographic area where it made sense for many reasons. I expect there are many other situations like this in California, which could result in major savings for us taxpayers.

Posted by mcdez, a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2012 at 3:32 pm

PTA has been advocating for children for 115 years. Having a separate juvenile justice system -- that was PTA. Having kindergarten as part of the regular school day -- that was PTA. Having hot lunch at school -- that was PTA. Last year's bullying prevention bill -- that was PTA.

CA has the highest student to teacher, student to counselor and student to administrator ratios in the nation. Our per pupil spending is among the lowest (47th) in the country. After carefully reading all of the initiatives (3 at the time) CA PTA determined that "Our Children, Our Future" was the best one for our kids. They also inserted the language about community input and parent involvement. It's PTA doing what PTA does -- advocating for our kids.

Posted by Get the facts!, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm

I don't believe in this initiative either- especially in this economic crisis. The problem in our public school system cannot be fixed with money. The following WSJ article may bring some insights:

Web Link

Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 7, 2012 at 1:58 am

Well going from that Murdoch rag...

Why not look to Finland, which outshines us.

Teachers are unionized. No STAR testing, etc.

Now for the racist comments to weigh in....

Posted by More-Spending-Is-Not-The-Answer, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2012 at 10:41 am

> Because if you look at any qualitative ranking of schools you
> can clearly see that the best schools are the ones that spend
> the most per student. There are occasional anomalies but these
> are rare

Please cite your sources. Per student spending in large school systems, like New York City is astronomical--with incredibly poor results. Washington, DC, while not as large--is another example of good money chasing bad results. And we could also look at the Court-ordered Kansas City spending, and come to the same conclusions.

Sadly, for all of the money that is spent on "education" in the US, the results of the 50 individual education systems are not always comparable. The NAEP and the SAT are about the only credible tests that provide comparable results at the national level. Certainly there is no evidence that there is a direct correlation between expenditures/student and testing results.

With 85% of every dollar going to staff salaries/benefits--increased educational spending is just code for increased teacher salaries and pensions. There is never any guarantee of increased quality, or quantify, of "education" resulting from increased educational spending.

Posted by Ken, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm

>Because if you look at any qualitative ranking of schools
>you can clearly see that the best schools are the ones
>that spend the most per student. There are occasional
>anomalies but these are rare. The evidence shows more
>money will get you better educated students.

Correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Has there been a randomized controlled trial of the effect of spending on educational outcomes?

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 8, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Posted by Mike, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Apr 6, 2012 at 10:25 am

Why is it assumed by these and other groups that more money always equals better education?

Shouldn't they be required to show a quantitative beneficial effect of better student scores directly relating from the requested additional tax dollars before we have our personal earnings squeezed yet again for the billionth time?

Exactly my feelings, Mike! Well said.

Posted by Haywood, a resident of Hoover School
on Apr 9, 2012 at 11:41 am

Agree with "One thing is clear is that the state of California has not been a good steward of our tax money."

Web Link

"In 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons, versus $5.7 billion on higher education.

Since 1980, California has built one college campus; it's built 21 prisons.

The state spends $8,667 per student per year. It spends about $50,000 per inmate per year."

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2012 at 2:15 pm

California State PTA is a supporter of Proposition 38. I was one of the PTA volunteers who asked people to sign the petition to get Proposition 38 on the ballot. From what I recall, others were getting signatures to put Proposition 30 on the ballot. We were clearly instructed to tell people it did not mean they had to vote for it, it just meant that they would have the opportunity to do so. This was back in March/April. Much has been learned about both propositions since then. Most of the people I know who are voting, are voting for both to insure that one wins.

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2012 at 7:11 am

Perspective is a registered user.

This is the MAJOR reason I quit the PTA. It is about politics far beyond those affecting kids and teachers. Not only that, in my years in the PTA, I heard only sheep-like followers spouting the predictable line about "more taxes" and "pro-union". Regardless the issue, it is always "more money" and "strengthen union".

No thanks.

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