Guest column: Public education on the edge of an abyss |

Guest column: Public education on the edge of an abyss

Dr. James R. Tarwater

If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and a society is only as strong as its response to its most vulnerable members, what does the future hold for California’s children?

This November, our children’s future is no longer in the hands of educators like me. It is in the hands of the voters.

For the past four years school districts and colleges have endured unprecedented budget cuts and have been forced to eliminate valuable programs and lay off talented staff just to stay afloat.

Staff members at Lake Tahoe Unified School District have taken on multiple positions and extra duties, paid more for benefits and received less compensation for work in order to keep the cuts away from the students. In doing so, we have avoided cutting music, physical education, class size reduction, art, athletics, career technical education program and other important programs.

South Lake Tahoe voters have proven time and time again that they value education; the most recent example being the passage of Measure G in 2008, which unfortunately coincided with start of the current financial crisis. Our schools were old and in disrepair and the $64.5 Measure allowed LTUSD to increase that number to almost $100 million with matching state funds. That money, by law, cannot be used to fund the day-to-day education costs.

Thanks to the voters, we are now building the quality facilities that not only serve our students, but add to the city’s ability to attract different kinds of tourists, especially throughout the summer.

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However, the state budget approved earlier this year includes $6 billion in cuts that would be imposed if Proposition 30 fails in November. The biggest cuts, $5.4 billion, would fall on public schools and would allow up to 20 days to be eliminated from the school calendar. Public universities would endure another $500 million cut, which would lead to substantial fee increases in tuition. Public safety programs would also follow schools into the abyss of financial ruin.

The Lake Tahoe Unified School District would suffer an additional loss of $457 per student, or $1.6 million, in addition to the $4 million loss in recent years. No longer could we hold on to those programs we value. No longer could we keep our doors open 180/day per year for our children. No longer could we keep our class size low.

Opponents of Proposition 30 say that the money won’t go to schools, but that is misleading. Schools won’t see dramatic increases in funding; this would just stop the hemorrhaging. Much of the debt the state has incurred is being carried by the school districts and needs to be cleared before anything else can happen.

Proposition 30 increases the sales tax rate by one-quarter cent for every dollar for four years, ending on December 31, 2017. The current rate is 7.25 percent (does not include local taxes), down from 8.25 percent in 2009-11. So for every $4 you spend on non-food items, a penny would go to public education. It also increases personal income tax rates on upper-income taxpayers for seven years. This would affect individuals with taxable income of more than $250,000 and couples’ more than $500,000.

Proposition 38 would leave the sales tax rate alone but raise the income taxes on most Californians for twelve years starting January 1, 2013. Nearly all of the revenue from Proposition 38 would go to K-12 schools but none of it would go to public universities.

If both propositions pass, the one with the most votes would go into effect.

California is already ranked 47th in the nation in per pupil funding. How much more can our schools endure? The answer is in the hands of the voters this November. Once the chain is broken at the weakest link, it will take years if not decades to repair. The children who will be affected are the very ones who will be deciding our future in coming years. Choose to educate their minds now so that they will make informed decisions in the future. Vote “yes” on Proposition 30.

– Dr. James R. Tarwater is the Lake Tahoe Unified School District superintendent, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, director of human resources and principal of Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School.

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