Author Archives: Ana Tintocalis

Voters Supportive of Local Measures for Schools; More Skeptical of Statewide Solutions

Voters in Redwood City approved a local tax for district schools earlier this year. (Ana Tintocalis: KQED)

Voters in Redwood City approved a local tax for district schools earlier this year. (Ana Tintocalis: KQED)

Redwood City is a suburb just south of San Francisco. In recent years, the city has restored its historic downtown area and cleaned up its neighborhoods. But one thing remains the same: the Redwood City school district still gets the lowest amount of state education funding compared to neighboring communities — a result of the state’s complex school funding formula. That rubs 78-year-old Redwood City education advocate Margaret Marshall the wrong way. “It’s not fair and it’s wrong,” she says.

Marshall served on the district’s school board back in the 1980s. But when the state cut millions from education funding over the last two years, she took action. Marshall and an army of volunteers spent hours drafting a local parcel tax for Redwood City schools this past spring. Parcel taxes have become extremely popular among public school districts because the money raised goes directly into local campuses and teachers.

“If [voters] see the money being spent on their block, on their street, in their child’s school, they’re at least willing to consider that tax increase.”
But passing this kind of measure is tough. It requires a “supermajority” vote — two-thirds voter approval.

Redwood City tried three times before to pass a parcel tax, but this time Marshall says voters were finally ready to listen. “I had more coffee and cups of tea in the little coffeehouses locally,” she tells me. “But when you take the time to explain it to someone, one-on-one, you feel better about it. I think lots of times people distrust because they don’t understand what is happening.” Continue reading

Explaining the Difference Between Props 30 and 38, Dueling Tax Initiatives

Teachers at Angeles Mesa Elementary School in Los Angeles review voter information on Proposition 38 during a recent teacher union meeting. (Ana Tintocalis: KQED)

Teachers at Angeles Mesa Elementary School in Los Angeles review voter information on Proposition 38 during a recent teacher union meeting. (Ana Tintocalis: KQED)

Education advocates in California say public schools will either sink or swim based on the outcome of two competing tax initiatives on the November ballot — Proposition 30 and Proposition 38. While both aim to protect students from more devastating budget cuts, they go about it in very different ways.

To better understand what is at stake for California’s public schools, I started off by visiting the headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest district in the state.

LAUSD has had to cut about half a billion dollars from its budget every year for the past five years because of the state’s money problems. Class sizes have swollen to more than 40 students; the school year was cut by five instructional days, and teachers have lost their jobs.

The person behind every difficult financial decision is Megan Reilly, the district’s Chief Financial Officer.

“The biggest challenge for Governor Brown is convincing [voters] that state government can be trusted to spend their tax dollars wisely and effectively.”

Her office is perched on the 26th floor of a skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles. Stacks of papers and financial reports are piled on and around her desk. Although she has a sweeping view of the city, she can’t take her eyes off of a series of large monthly calendars on the wall.

November 6th, Election Day, is circled, underlined and highlighted.

“I don’t think you can not think about it,” Reilly says. “We’re just in limbo because everything is critical about what is going to happen at the November election.”

Reilly views the election as a watershed moment for schools, because if voters do not approve Prop. 30 or Prop. 38, L.A. Unified — along with most other districts in California — will be pushed further down the road toward insolvency. Continue reading