Activists: Gov. Davis’ focus on schools a start, but not enough |

Activists: Gov. Davis’ focus on schools a start, but not enough

In the small, rural, mountain community of Tahoe-Truckee, a group of local parents, students and teachers rallied more 200 people to march at the State Capital and deliver more than 3,000 letters to Gov. Gray Davis, demanding more school funding.

A group of San Francisco teachers took to panhandling the streets in front of city hall, holding signs reading, “Please help, need pencils,” in protest of the lack of money for school supplies.

And the California Teachers Association (CTA), the state’s dominant teachers union, has prepared an initiative for the November ballot that would bring the state up to the national average within five years and would require Gov. Davis and the Legislature to raise taxes to do it.

According to California Department of Education, California ranks 40th in states’ per pupil spending, approximately $1,000 below the national average.

Local school district officials and organizers of the Grass Roots Effort for Adequate Public School Funding, say they are pleased the governor increased per pupil spending by a reported $268 a year in his budget, but it’s still not enough.

“It’s good to see it moving in that direction,” said one of the group’s organizers, Barb Cohen. “I am excited to see him focussing on education, but it seems we’re still spending far below the national average. I certainly would like to see more.”

Cohen said that after the group’s December march in front of the Capital building, she has yet to hear a response from the governor or his office. She and other organizers don’t know if their efforts had anything to do with raising the per pupil spending, but would like to think it helped a little.

“I don’t know whether it directly had an influence or not,” said Cohen, a Tahoe Vista resident and mother of a North Tahoe High School student. “I could see how delivering over 3,000 letters from such a small community could make an impact. I’m hoping that’s part of it.”

Organizer Lucy Isbell said the effort probably made an impact combined with the activity of other school initiatives in the state.

“It was all happening at the same time. It all worked together,” Isbell said.

She said that no matter what happens with the budget, they hope to continue to put pressure on the governor, perhaps with another rally in the spring.

The group will meet again Jan. 20 to regroup and plan for their next move. One of the best things about the December rally, said both Isbell and Cohen, was that they made a lot of contacts around the state with similar organizations.

“I have heard from the CTA, they sent me a whole copy of their initiative. I was pleased they wanted to keep us informed with what they’re doing,” Cohen said. “We’re branching out and reaching some different people.”

The governor’s proposed budget also provides for a 2.84 percent cost-of-living increase for schools.

“That’s not very much considering how much state reserves there are,” TTUSD Superintendent Pat Gemma said.

Gemma said that while he’s encouraged the governor is focussed on education, he finds the proposals frustrating at the same time.

“It’s frustrating being told what needs to get done and how to do it,” he said. “I don’t know who the governor is talking to. It seems clear educators aren’t even being asked.”

Gov. Davis also highlighted his intent to recruit more qualified teachers by offering incentives for college graduates to get California teaching credentials. Many school districts across the state have a shortage of qualified credentialed teachers.

Assistant Superintendent Jim Abbott said TTUSD does not suffer from a lack of qualified teachers; in fact, this is a very competitive district in which to teach.

“We receive far more applications for teachers than other districts,” he said. “We’re not in the same position as some of the other districts that have to give teachers emergency credentials.”

Abbott said there are a variety of emergency credentials that a school district may obtain for a prospective teacher, meaning the person has not yet met all of the requirements for a “clear” credential. This can range from a person with only a bachelor of art degree, as is the case with many large urban school districts having difficulties obtaining staff, to a person who has completed nearly all subject matter requirements and teaching methodology, but is a unit or two short of receiving a clear credential.

TTUSD has four teachers currently on emergency credentials, but they are close to receiving clear credentials, he said.

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