Today marks the one-year anniversary of the passage of the groundbreaking Santa Monica Propositions Y and YY. It also provides the opportunity to recognize and honor the unique partnership that these measures represent between the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and the city of Santa Monica.

Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS), a Santa Monica-based, all-volunteer, grass-roots political action committee, has advocated for local funding for local public schools for over a decade. Since the beginning, CEPS has bridged political divides, bringing together advocates from divergent groups and philosophies, all committed to protecting local public schools.

In California, public schools rely on the state for most of their funding, yet for the past decade, Sacramento has been the source of deep and relentless cuts, both to our local public schools and to schools up and down the state. In addition, early childhood education, community and Cal State colleges, and even our incredible UC system, have all sustained devastating cuts. Public education’s outlook in our once-Golden State is dire.

Nearly a decade ago, CEPS argued that strong local public schools provide tangible and demonstrable financial benefits to their cities and that inadequate funding from the state was not acceptable. We called for long-term, predictable, ongoing support from the city of Santa Monica for its local public schools.

In 2003, CEPS proposed a measure to amend the City Charter to provide ongoing direct contributions from City Hall to SMMUSD schools. After CEPS collected the 15,000 signatures to qualify that measure for the ballot, the City Council and SMMUSD crafted a direct Master Facilities Use Agreement, which is still in effect and requires renewal in early 2012.

Taking CEPS’ advocacy to a statewide level, in 2005, CEPS strategically partnered with California’s State PTA to organize “Caravan for Kids,” comprising rallies and press conferences across the state, and culminating in a large rally on the steps of the State Capitol.

Education funding crises have pummeled public schools continually for the past decade, but time and again our community pulled together to respond. CEPS and many community groups joined forces to work on multiple measures to provide local funding directly to classrooms. A coalition of committed volunteers from multiple groups, including CEPS, PTAs, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, the Chamber of Commerce, teachers, school staff, administrators, city leaders and many more worked extraordinarily hard on the campaigns. Voters, most of whom did not have school-aged children, demonstrated their commitment to strong public schools by passing these measures and voting to tax themselves to fill funding gaps caused by state cuts.

In 2010, in the middle of one of the worst recessions in recent history, Santa Monica City Manager Rod Gould proposed a new municipal tax to shore up funding for local services and public schools. The City Council voted to put it on the ballot, along with a companion advisory measure to describe the sharing of the funds. A diverse coalition, drawing on the strength of the education community, again coalesced to successfully campaign for the two unique ballot measures.

CEPS is deeply appreciative of Mr. Gould’s and the City Council’s commitment to the importance of partnership between City Hall and the SMMUSD. We believe that these two unprecedented municipal policies, Y and YY, were the right message for the right community at the right time, and that a decade of advocacy to help protect strong public schools contributed to the success of these propositions.

On the one-year anniversary of these groundbreaking measures and partnership, we pause to look back and reflect on how far we have come as a community and say a huge “thank you” to everyone who worked so hard to make these accomplishments possible. And because so much work is left to do, CEPS is also driven to look forward.

As cuts continue to come from Sacramento, CEPS will continue its number one job; advocating to preserve and protect the quality of our local public schools. In addition, we will continue to advocate in local and state elections to help elect representatives who are aware of and ready to take on the challenges to ensure high quality public education. And CEPS will become more involved at the state level since, after all, Sacramento is the place where funding and policy decisions live and die.

Moreover, on this anniversary celebrating the passage of Y and YY, CEPS is excited by the myriad opportunities developing in the wake of the strengthening partnership between our community and our schools. Santa Monica’s “Buy Local” campaign is building a strong working relationship between our education and business communities, and the emerging work of the Santa Monica Youth Resource Team brings schools and the community together to provide a continuum of services, outreach, and opportunities to children throughout our community, from cradle to career.

At its core, education advocacy — for CEPS, for our community leaders, and for every individual — boils down to providing each child the very best opportunity possible to learn. We are so proud and grateful that our great community is committed to the education of all of its children. Through true partnership, we all grow stronger.

Happy birthday Y and YY. Many happy returns of the day!

Shari Davis and Rebecca Kennerly are co-chairs of Community for Excellent Public Schools, writing on behalf of the CEPS Steering Committee.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.