October 29, 2012

Supporting our community's treasures

        By Lori Gaskin and Bill Cirone

Educational quality and opportunity boost human capital and correlate strongly with a region’s economic prosperity. Santa Barbara’s remarkable educational landscape is a vital community resource that can be expected to shape the future of our region more than any other factor.

Santa Barbara City College has been ranked in the top 10 community colleges in the nation for two years running, our K-12 school system is very highly regarded, and UCSB is among the best public research universities anywhere. Collectively, our educational institutions undergird the economic health and vitality of our area, as well as strengthening our social fabric. Our quality educational systems positively touch lives, and will impact our greater community for generations.

As a result of years of underfunding at the state level, however, these community assets are seriously imperiled. The fact that California has plummeted from the top spot in the country to 47th in education funding has taken a toll on these most precious community-based resources.

As local education leaders, we feel compelled to share information about Proposition 30, an important statewide ballot measure on the November 6 ballot that was written to help prevent further harm and erosion to our educational institutions.

What does Proposition 30 mean to local education?

In light of the state’s fiscal crisis, Proposition 30 was drafted to help avert what has been described as draconian and unavoidable additional cuts to public education at every level. Here are the facts, with figures presented by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s office:

Passage of Proposition 30 would prevent nearly a billion dollars annually in additional cuts to California’s public colleges and universities — $338 million less to community colleges along with reductions of $250 million to UCs and $250 million to CSUs.

The proposition was also written to avert a $457 per-student cut to K-12 education, which would require shortening the school year in many districts, and further teacher layoffs. It pays down a $5.8 billion state debt to K-12 schools in its first year — funds that by statute are owed to public schools but have been withheld due to the state’s fiscal crisis. By paying down that debt, the proposition would allow K-12 school funding to benefit from the economic growth of the state in subsequent years and restore funding that is constitutionally guaranteed.

To place the issue into perspective, general purpose funding for K-12 schools has been reduced by 12% since the 2008-09 school year, and funding for targeted purposes such as textbooks and career education has been lowered by 20%. Districts have already sustained long-term cuts that remain in place. If the measure fails, an additional midyear reduction of approximately 8.5% will take place.

As a system, the California Community Colleges have seen funding cut 12% or $809 million since 2008-09. Critical student support programs for students with disabilities and educationally disadvantaged students have been slashed 32 to 64%. At the same time, our enrollment fees, which are set by the state, have increased 77% since 2009-10. Further, the cuts to community colleges come in the form of reductions in the number of students we are funded to serve. This translates directly into decreased numbers of course sections that we are able to offer. Thus, at a time when demand is highest due to the large number of graduating high school seniors, returning veterans, and the newly unemployed, access to higher education is being constricted.

Santa Barbara City College will lose $4.6 million more if Proposition 30 does not pass, which means an additional reduction of 7.3% to our course sections and further erosion of student support services. There are less dollars to serve all students — credit, non-credit, and lifelong learners — to the level we have experienced in the past.

More facts: Proposition 30 would require some additional tax revenue from individuals with incomes above $250,000 and joint filers with incomes above $500,000, which is about 1% of the state’s tax filers. The remaining 20% of the revenues would come from a temporary (four-year) sales tax increase of one-quarter cent.

Your vote counts

Voting is a right, and informed voting is a responsibility. We urge members of the community to research and carefully consider all the facts about Proposition 30 and then make an informed decision regarding whether to support it.

The beauty of our democratic system of government is that the future health and well-being of our communities, including our strong track record of quality education, truly lies in the hands of voters at the ballot box. Please exercise your right and responsibility to vote on November 6.

Lori Gaskin is Santa Barbara City College President.

Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools.