In for a penny, in for a pound
Hold your nose and vote yes on Measure CC
By Kevin Uhrich 04/22/2010
No question about it; critics of the Pasadena Unified School District have plenty of room to complain when it comes to the district’s myriad problems with fiscal accountability.
Yes, district officials sometimes seem to spend money like drunken sailors on a weekend bender, using our tax money to enrich those associated with the many nonprofit organizations to which the district routinely turns over its duties when it comes to educating our kids.
And yes, few have disputed the data compiled by Ross Selvidge — who a few years back led a similar parcel tax initiative to save the city’s libraries from closure and now heads the anti-school parcel tax campaign — and Wayne Lusvardi, head of a Pasadena taxpayer’s group. Their figures indicate that Pasadena public school students already get more than their fair share of state funding and that class sizes, one of the things proponents say will go up without the parcel tax, will not see that much of an increase, if any, if the tax doesn’t get the required two-thirds majority.
We are also not thrilled about the senior exemption provision in Measure CC, also known as the Quality Education Preservation Act, which forces property-owning seniors on fixed incomes to annually petition the school board to be excused from paying $120 a year. We can think of no worse panel of political dilettantes for an older person who is disconnected from the local power structure to make a plea for leniency.
Nor do we like the sneaky way this election has been run — a mail-in-only ballot that went out to voters three weeks ago and will only be fully counted on May 4, the designated “election day.” This unusual way of counting ballots was designed specifically to ensure people who are most likely to vote yes — administrators, teachers and parents — would do so.
In normal times, any one of these points would be compelling enough for us to agree with the critics and vote no on this tax, which is expected to raise some $7 million over the next five years. But we currently live in anything but normal times, with the state running a $26.3 billion deficit and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger threatening to cut another $2.5 billion from local education budgets around California. That would be a staggering $23 million cut from the district’s $230 million budget that’s already been pared back this year by $10 million.
Pasadena taxpayers have been down this road before, facing similar questions about supporting public education, first with 1997’s $240 million school repair bond, Measure Y, and in 2008 with Measure TT, a $350 million bond used to pay for patching up the district’s aging structures — not improving curriculums or raising teachers’ salaries or anything else.
If passed, Measure CC will provide the discretionary capital needed to pay for the things that the two bonds did not, namely teacher salaries, as well as enrichment and other worthwhile programs for students, who have shown marked academic improvement with the arrival in 2006 of Superintendent Edwin Diaz, who, in our opinion, has been the answer to a prayer offered by a district in search of a miracle. Under his watch, there’s been a new energy at work, one that’s produced some impressive test scores of late. This year, for instance, the district’s average Academic Performance Index score was 742 of a targeted 800 — a
33 point jump from the previous year. That is encouraging. So much so that, without it, we also would be saying no to this tax measure.
As Diaz said in a recent column, “This parcel tax is absolutely essential because without it, budget cuts will devastate our schools. We as a community must invest locally to support public education and help close the $23 million budget gap, or class sizes, counselors and the arts will be decimated.”
Pasadena has never been squeamish when it comes to spending money to help or even save important things like public libraries and public schools. Now — when support for public education is most needed — is not the time to bail out.
Of course, we all want the district to be more accountable and more responsible. In this case, we think with Diaz’s leadership and oversight of these funds — as well as a renewed interest in public schools by those who criticize their administration the most (us included) — this will happen, as will continued improvement in the classroom.
And isn’t that what this is really all about? If you haven’t done so already, vote yes on Measure CC.