PUSD became the first district to officially offer support for a tax-raising initiative aimed at funneling money exclusively toward schools at its regular Tuesday evening meeting.
Pasadena attorney and former John Muir High student Molly Munger pitched the "Our Children, Our Future" measure to the board as way to guarantee money for local schools that would be devoid of Sacramento bureaucracy. She is the principal author of the initiative, which was also assembled with input from the California State PTA.
"This is an effort to stand up and fight back against the brutal cuts that our schools have experienced," she said, comparing the cuts to a civil rights violation. "Civil rights are for any group of people … when there's a political consensus to it's OK to shortchange somebody, or exclude somebody. And in this case, the people who are shortchanged and excluded are young. They're children."
The measure is designed to raise $10 to $11 billion for schools every year through a "sliding scale" income tax increase that would adjust to how much taxpayers can actually pay. The money would be placed in a trust fund that's off-limits to the Governor and State Legislature. The money would also be allocated on a per-pupil basis, and it gets allocated straight to the school site.
"Sacramento can't touch it," she said. "It's locally controlled."
Patty Scripter of the California PTA also mentioned that the measure doesn't just seek to obtain money, but would also open the door for schools to resurrect curriculum casualties of the ravaged budget, such as the arts, physical education, or perhaps more counselors. The reduction of class sizes could also be an option for schools, should they see fit. About $300 million of the money raised would go toward healing the cuts made in early childhood education.
"We took a historic step for us," Scripter said. "In this instance, we helped write it, we took an early vote of support for it, and we are working diligently to get it on the ballot."
The measure also calls for schools to be transparent about how they plan to spend the money, and asks them to tie the spending to results.
Board members lauded the "thoughtfulness" of the initiative, with Ramon Miramontes mentioning its "outside-the-box" thinking that focuses extensively on the students.
But a sticking point that was also brought up is that if the initiative makes it onto the November ballot, it will share space with another tax-raising initiative, which is being brought from Gov. Jerry Brown.
Munger said the main focus of Brown's initiative is the budget deficit and the "non-school" side of things, while also constitutionally shifting roughly $2 billion per year away from what schools are guaranteed.
"So, when you're all done, under the governor's initiative, with not getting the most out of the tax increase and having to take the hit from the realignment tax shift, you're really pretty flat," she said. "That's why every school district that pushes the numbers around finds that 'Gee, we're not really getting anywhere here.'"
Munger added that it's very important that the voters be given a choice, and to be told they have a choice.
"If you want to just tax the poor people with the sales tax and rich people with a millionaires' tax, bail out the budget and leave the schools starving, that's what the governor proposes," she said. "If you want to step up yourself and put a little bit of your own behind this, you can do as much or more for the non-school part of the budget and make a transformational investment in our children and in our future."
Board president Renatta Cooper then asked what would happen if both initiatives ended up passing. Munger noted that if her measure ended up with more votes, the tax-shifting piece of Gov. Brown's initiative would survive, which would be OK.
She said the tax shift is a "bad thing when coupled with no balance. To be fair, you have to build that back … under Our Children, Our Future, with so much more money coming to schools, the loss of the $2 billion isn't as harsh." She also mentioned that tax realignment can go back to the ballot in a special election, after money is secured if her measure passes.
Miramontes said he's heard a lot of support for Munger's work in discussions with other educators, and said that Gov. Brown's initiative is solely about "backfilling what they should have done years ago, and they are backfilling on the backs of children and teachers."
Cooper said the initiative gives her hope, "and I haven't had any for a while. When I saw your presentation in February, I thought … this could do it. This could bring back, well, I'm not sure people would call 2007 the 'glory days' of school funding, but it sure looks like it from where we're sitting." She gave her thanks to Munger before the board offered unanimous support.