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PUSD Supports Tax-Raising Initiative for Schools

Pasadena attorney Molly Munger discussed the initiative she wants to get on the November ballot that she says would raise billions for schools.

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.

Ddez March 28, 2012 at 07:45 PM
The PTA/Molly Munger initiative "Our Children, Our Future" IS ALL about the schools. The tax runs for 12 years. For the first 4 years 30% of the revenue goes to pay down school bond debt. 70% GOES DIRECTLY TO SCHOOL SITES AND DOES NOT PASS THROUGH SACRAMENTO. This is actually a lot of money, since the broad based, sliding scale income tax (on net, not gross) will raise $10 billion a year. In year five of the tax, there's no more payment towards bond debt reduction -- 100% will go directly to school sites and not pass through Sacramento. Parent, teacher and community input re how the money will be spent is mandated. Written into the initiative is language that says the money cannot go towards raising current teacher salaries. It also puts a 1% cap on administrative costs. The money is for reviving our schools by hiring new teachers to restore programs that have been lost and to keep class sizes reasonable. It is about the students and it is about time.
True Freedom March 28, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Of the two initiative, I would certainly vote for Molly Munger's over Brown's. I believe if we, as a society, really feel like we should fund education more.. then we ALL need to pitch in more... not just pin the increase on folks in a certain income bracket. Put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. That being said, I'm still gonna vote NO on any increase in taxes until pension and retirement reform is hammered out.
navigio March 28, 2012 at 08:48 PM
hi tf. can you be more specific about the types of pension and retirement reform you'd like to see, or that would be reasonable.. assuming they dont overlap.. ;-)
Observer March 28, 2012 at 09:23 PM
This is an insane idea: 1. The California is ALREADY very progressive. This would make it more so. That means that from year to year the state will be MORE dependent on the most volitale and variable source of revenue; tax on the income of high income tax payers. That is already a problem. This would make it worse. 2. This is more ballot box budgeting pure and simple. The poroponents say no but it is. Most observers think that is one of the problems with California's budgetprocess. In summary: This proposal makes two existing problems worse. Solution: Tax everyone in California 100% of income. Then everyone will leave and the state won't need any tax revenues at all.
navigio March 28, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Actually, the revenue does not go to the state. That is an important distinction because it essentially bypasses the 'states budget process', and for good reason; thats its very point. The money instead goes directly to districts and can only be used at schools and only with the direction of school-based input to the local school board. Not more than 1% of the funds can be used for administration and the money is prohibited from being used as a source of revenue in any union negotiations (ie prohibits it being used explicitly to simply increase salaries. In addition, the measure uses the more volatile portion of the revenue differently than the more stable portion, with the more volatile portion going to deferral bond payback and the more stable portion being what goes to schools, at least in the first few years. Molly spoke at the meeting specifically to this issue. Here is her whole presentation if you're interested: http://pusd.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=12&clip_id=426&meta_id=64104
pusddad March 29, 2012 at 03:38 PM
TF: you do acknowledge that except for law enforcement, forefighters and certain high ranking officials, public employee pensions are for the most part rather modest, don't you?
pusddad March 29, 2012 at 03:44 PM
It's too bad we've reached this current state of affairs. I think its rooted in the initiative process, starting in 1978, which has left us handcuffed in dealing with our revenue and expenditure process. This initiative has great appeal, but its still another initiative that will further tie the hands of the government.
navigio March 29, 2012 at 05:36 PM
I agree that our initiative process may in fact have turned out to be a net harm. I disagree that this initiative would tie the hands of government. Its goal seems to be to bypass the government altogether. Admittedly, there is one potential negative with this initiative and that is that its passage will effectively ensure that brown's blackmail trigger cuts to education would happen (which would essentially double the education cuts that would otherwise happen). Ironically, the district claims that the worst-case scenario--if brown's initiative fails--would result in a need to cut $20M next year. Munger's initiative would direct about $19M to PUSD schools in its first year of implementation and $33M in the next year (with the amount going up slightly from there). Even if you consider that a net wash, the question of whether the money should be going to 'the district' (brown's case) or 'the schools directly' (molly's case), is probably relevant for decision making. To put it another way, if brown's passes, we will lose fewer teachers than if it doesnt pass, but we'll lose some either way (and a lot more if furloughs cant be negotiated). If molly's passes, that money will likely be used to hire new teachers or save some of those being lost. The other is that molly's doesnt kick in until 13-14, so we'd have to suffer brown's wrath for a year.. but our community will help out... right?
pusddad March 29, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Perhaps tie the hands is a bad description. It will merely tie up revenue, albeit for a good purpose. I'll vote for it because my kids' need it, but over the years too many specific revenue sources have been tied to too many specific expenditures by the intiative process that prohibit flexibility in times of crisis. We have become a state whose laws and actions are started by special interest groups that put forth their agendas, oftentimes hidden in the fine print of initiative petitions that are then signed in ignorance at the urging of gatherers who are paid by the signature who sell the intiative as something it really isn't. Prop 13, three strikes, term limits, judical recalls, energy deregulation all have in some ways left us in the pathetic dysfunctional position we are in.
pusddad March 29, 2012 at 06:40 PM
also tobacco taxes, bullet trains etc.
navigio March 30, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Thanks for the clarification pdaddy. While flexibility seems like it is valuable, in politics it is invariably used as a license to achieve a specific agenda. I guess that is not surprising when there so many competing ideas of what is appropriate. I think the only real inflexibility here is the lack of ability to spend on administration. To be honest, one of the reasons many people vote against more general tax increases for schools is they dont trust the proportionality of the distribution between administration and the classroom (there are obviously other reasons). I think one value of this initiative is it essentially removes that particular concern. On the flip side, I have seen one anecdote of a middle sized district who is sharing one principal between two elementary schools. This is highly non-ideal. And these funds could explicitly not be used to make sure both of those schools each got their own principals. Those schools are not going to like that. I absolutely agree with you on making sure the initiative is understood. I am actually in the process of reading the actual text. So hopefully I can be more help at some point in the near future.
Steve Gerow March 30, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Was that bullet train pro or con?
pusddad March 30, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Steve: I guess only time will tell, but my impression of it was $38 bil and a staight shot to SF from LA. Now its $100 bil with stops in Palmdale Fresno etc. As planned now, its only a couple hours quicker than driving and not much cheaper than flying. It does not look like a significant improvement on what already exists. In 50 years maybe it will be worth it, but in our current state of affairs it seems hard to justify except if you are in the construction industry.

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