The next three weeks may be the most important weeks for the future of our local public schools for years to come.
On Tuesday, Nov. 2, Santa Monica voters will have the opportunity to protect our schools from the devastating effects of the state of California’s massive cuts to education funding, by voting yes on both Measures Y and YY.
Y would provide approximately $12 million in local funding for our city. YY, a companion advisory measure, would assert the voters’ desire to see half of those local revenues go to our public schools, with the other half to essential city services.
Why do we need to protect our local public schools? Over the past 10 years, our schools have continuously delivered a high quality education to students, and academic achievement has risen by every measure.
The academic achievement gap is narrowing; all students have the opportunity to participate in our nationally renowned music program; our students win national academic championships; our high school student entrepreneurs routinely place among the top two or three teams in the world; our Advanced Placement (AP) program ranks in the top 2 percent in the nation; a growing share of our students attend the nation’s top universities; and we have attracted a cadre of outstanding teachers.
People move to Santa Monica for many reasons. But a major draw — a major gem of Santa Monica — is our excellent public school system, which enhances the quality of life in our community in many ways.
Unfortunately, all of these achievements are now seriously threatened by chronic and unprecedented reductions in education funding from the state, upon which our district depends for 70 percent of its revenues. Sacramento has reduced funding for our schools by more than $20 million over the preceding two years, and this year our schools are receiving about $13 million less than they are owed.
As a result, the school board has been forced to make major budget cuts that exceed $10 million per year. The consequences are obvious to all students, parents, teachers and staff: larger class sizes at all grade levels, reductions in academic and other programs, fewer opportunities for professional development to help our teachers hone their skills, and reduced maintenance of our facilities, among others.
Remarkably, even these reductions do not capture the full impact of the state’s reductions to education funding. One-time infusions of money from federal stimulus funds, last summer’s Save Our Schools fundraising effort, and the board’s decision to all but deplete the emergency reserve we were careful to build have enabled us temporarily to blunt the effect of the state’s actions. But now our reserve is nearly exhausted, additional federal funds are unlikely, and private fundraising cannot come close to making up for what Sacramento has done, which means that we will no longer be able to blunt the full force of the state’s cuts.
The implications are straightforward: Next year the school board will be forced to cut an additional $4 to $5 million from our district budget, on top of the more than $10 million per year that we have already cut, unless we find a new, stable revenue source. That source is Measures Y and YY.
Without Y and YY, we will be forced to lay off one in six teachers, further increase class sizes, close school libraries, reduce AP classes and music programs, and eliminate school nurses.
Are there alternatives to Y and YY? Last May, the school board placed a school funding measure, Measure A, on the ballot. True to their conviction that excellent public schools are essential to the community, 64.3 percent of voters in our district supported Measure A, a landslide victory in most circumstances. Unfortunately, in California school funding measures require two-thirds of the vote to pass, which meant that Measure A lost by a small number of votes.
Some might have been hoping that the state would begin to undo the damage it has done to California’s schools. However, the new state budget, approved just last week, offers no relief and promises additional future cuts. It is clear that Sacramento will continue to abdicate its responsibility for educating California’s children for years to come.
Finally, although our district will continue aggressively to pursue private fundraising, the amounts that even the wealthiest school districts are able to raise through private efforts pale in comparison to the cuts that have come down from the state.
Consequently, Measures Y and YY represent our last chance to provide stable local funding for our schools, funding that Sacramento won’t be able to touch.
Our students desperately need everyone in our community to stand by them and support Y and YY to avoid the dramatic decline in educational quality that has affected so many other California school districts.
Please join us in voting yes on Measures Y and YY on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
José Escarce and Ben Allen are members of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education.