State education dollars in jeopardy
December 17, 2003
Governor may mess with Prop. 98’s funding
By William Ferchland
Tribune staff writer
A consideration to suspend a 15-year-old proposition that guarantees 40 percent of California’s budget be spent on education has South Lake Tahoe officials on edge.
Last week Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hinted he might suspend Proposition 98, which became a constitutional amendment after voters passed it in November 1988.
Lake Tahoe Unified School District receives the majority of its funding from the state in terms of money for enrollment. The bulk of that revenue comes from Proposition 98, said the district’s Chief Financial Officer Diane Head.
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“It’s not just whether it’s suspended, but what they then do with the funding and how they do fund us,” Head said, citing state funding for education would have to come at some level. “There is no way of knowing what would happen.”
Guy Lease, president of Lake Tahoe Community College, echoed the same thoughts.
“It’s not that I’m concerned we’re going to get killed in this process,” he said. “I’m concerned because I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
For community colleges, Chancellor Thomas Nussbaum dictates where state money is allocated.
“It can’t be good, let’s put it that way, but it might not be bad news for our college,” said Jon Stephens, vice president of business services. “You just have to wait and see how it’s played out.”
Representatives for state Sen. Rico Oller, R-San Andreas, and Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, said their bosses are supportive of the governor’s plans to fix the budget. They would not give specifics on whether the legislators are supportive of the suspension or any proposed changes to Proposition 98 to save money.
“I suppose he would have to see a concrete proposition on what would be cut,” said Bill Bird, Oller’s communications director.
Brian O’Neel, press secretary for Leslie, understood the announcement to not be a suspension, but a financial massaging of the proposition.
“Prop. 98 is part of the constitution,” O’Neel said. “You would need something extraordinary to happen.
“If this bond doesn’t go through on the March ballot, then on June 30 we will have no money (for the state),” O’Neel added.
Proposition 98 provides money to K-12 school districts and county offices of education, community colleges and instructional organizations of state agencies, such as state schools for the deaf and blind.
The calculation for funding is what the education districts received the year before, which is adjusted for increases in the cost of living and enrollment.
“Prop. 98 only speaks to the size of the bag of money, it doesn’t speak to what we spend it on,” said Rick Simpson, education advisor to Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, D-Los Angeles.
Many in politics were surprised to hear Schwarzenegger’s announcement since he said during his campaign that education would not be touched in his budget.
“We’ll be very interested to see what he has to say in January,” Head said. “I don’t know what he is proposing.”
The suspension would be included in Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal he will submit by Jan. 10. The Legislature would have to pass the suspension by a two-thirds vote.
– E-mail William Ferchland at email@example.com.