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Apodaca: We must move past blame to save education

November 10, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

California is a wondrous place.

From the magnificence of the Sierra Nevada to the bounties of the Central Valley to the splendor of the coastline, we are blessed with unrivaled richness and beauty. Silicon Valley has changed the way we live, and Hollywood has inspired us to dream. Our factories have built machines that sent men to the moon. We are steeped in cultural diversity, intellectual adventurousness and old-fashioned know-how.

We built arguably the world's finest institutions of public education, from elementary schools to our vaunted universities.

And we've very nearly ruined them.

The state's system — if one could call it that — of governance and finance is a wreck, and one of its biggest victims is our schools. That remains the case in spite of Tuesday's ballot box reprieve.

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California voters passed Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's initiative to raise taxes on incomes of more than $250,000 for seven years and the sales tax by one-quarter cent for four years. The measure was designed to save our emaciated public education coffers from another $6-billion hit — the equivalent of cutting three weeks off the school year.

We'll never know just how bad the situation would have gotten if Proposition 30 hadn't passed. Many voters remain skeptical of dire warnings of school district bankruptcies, massive classroom cuts and onerous college tuition hikes. They question the wisdom of sending new tax money to a mismanaged state government, despite Brown's promise of the first balanced budget in 15 years.

But the scary scenarios were very real to some of the most levelheaded people around.

Consider the picture painted by Paul Reed, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District's deputy superintendent and chief business official, at a recent board meeting. Reed, not a man given to hyperbole, estimated that if Proposition 30 were to fail, the district's per-student funding, which has fallen from $5,821 to $5,244 in the past five years, would drop to $4,789.

"Fiscal nuclear winter," is how he characterized the prospective loss in revenue.

That prediction was so sobering that another comment by Reed likely passed by with little notice.

"We're going to be looking at reductions regardless of what happens in November," he said.

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