SMMUSD HDQTRS — Local public schools could receive millions of dollars in additional revenue under a ballot measure backed by local parent groups, but school officials are still puzzling out what exactly it would mean for the district.

Proposition 38, which will appear on the ballot on Nov. 6, proposes to give $10,267,567 to the schools in the 2013-14 school year, an amount which will supposedly increase each year thereafter and hit $24,162,949 in 2023.

The money comes from a hike in income tax on nearly every Californian, including those who make approximately $7,300 a year, which would expire after 12 years.

Prop. 38, also called “Our Children, Our Future,” is the creation of wealthy social activist Molly Munger and is competing with Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30 for voters’ hearts.

It would be a great thing for local schools, which have been struggling to make ends meet as the district lost 20 percent of its state funding, said Patti Braun, president of the Parent Teacher Association Council.

The PTA Council is supporting Prop. 38 and staying neutral on Pro. 30, which would raise about $6 billion to Prop. 38’s $10 billion and involve an increase in sales tax and upping income taxes on California’s wealthiest.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education has endorsed both in hopes that one of them passes.

Unlike Prop. 38, Prop. 30 puts the money into California’s General Fund rather than funneling the money directly to the schools, a move that the Los Angeles Times called a “vote of no confidence” in Sacramento.

Many of the local schools have chosen to endorse Prop. 38 because it will put large amounts of money right into the governing board’s hands, Braun said.

“People are recognizing that the Munger initiative is a visionary and transformative solution rather than being reactionary to the economic downturn,” Braun said. “We want a brand new funding stream that will guarantee every school will get what they need and … prohibit Sacramento from touching the money.”

It’s not all sunshine and roses, however.

If Prop. 30 doesn’t pass, $6 billion in trigger cuts will hit California’s budget, necessitating an ongoing reduction in base funding for schools. Passing Prop. 38 will not stop that, said H.D. Palmer, spokesperson for the California Department of Finance.

“What happens is that under Prop. 38, it does not go to schools in the first year,” Palmer said. “What would happen in a scenario like that is you’d have that $5.4 billion reduction occur in the current fiscal year.”

That means funding for schools would grow from a reduced base, he said.

Braun hopes that if Prop. 38 makes it past voters in November, legislators will free up the money needed to keep schools afloat knowing that new funds are on the horizon.

“It would be unconscionable to do anything else if you knew the money was on the table,” Braun said.

One of the biggest concerns about Prop. 38 is one of uncertainty.

Unlike the Brown measure, which is built into the state budget, school officials do not know what Prop. 38 will mean in terms of new accountability measures or how it impacts currently-funded district programs at schools.

“Some folks are concerned because there is not enough language in the initiative to provide guidance about how it is to be executed,” said SMMUSD Superintendent Sandra Lyon.

There is also fear that it could turn into another cumbersome layer in the morass of educational funding, and ultimately result in lawmakers withholding General Fund money because of the presence of the dedicated education fund that it creates.

The district is already preparing for the various outcomes of the Nov. 6 election — with one, both or neither measure passing — and will hold budget meetings for the school teams and different staff to provide information about priorities leading up to the budget study session in January, Lyon said.

Prop. 38 is another use of California’s initiative system, a form of direct democracy from the turn of the 20th century used to fight the railroad companies’ hold on power in the Golden State.

That process has since been co-opted by the very monied interests that it was supposed to protect against, according to a report issued in 2000 by the Public Policy Institute of California.

According to that report, there were more initiatives circulated, placed on the ballot and approved by voters than any other decade in California’s history.

The “initiative industrial complex” spawned companies that provided services to automate the process.

Such initiatives can have adverse, unintended consequences, much like Proposition 13. Passed in 1978, Prop. 13 was intended to help homeowners who faced runaway property taxes stay in their houses.

It capped property tax increases, which in effect starved local schools of funds, forcing the state to come up with new ways to pay for its education system.

Education advocates often point to Prop. 13 as one of the reasons the state has fallen to 47th in the nation in terms of per-pupil-funding.

Braun believes that Prop. 38 could change that dismal track record.

“I think it’s time to invest in our schools. We all share benefits of better schools and all share the benefit of an educated workforce,” Braun said.

 

ashley@smdp.com