My Turn: Standing shoulder to shoulder for the students | SierraSun.com

My Turn: Standing shoulder to shoulder for the students

Nik Fertitta
Special to the Sun

TRUCKEE/TAHOE, Calif. and#8212;-Gov. Brownand#8217;s budget proposal thus far has largely spared further cuts to K-12 schools, which are still dealing with their portion of the $20 billion in cuts to schools and colleges over the past 3 years; however, the ability to hold to that plan depends largely on whether the 2009 tax increases are extended. Those extensions would include a 0.5 percent vehicle license fee, a 1 cent state sales tax and a 0.25 percent state income tax. In total, the extensions add up to about $9 billion in revenue for the state.

The three options to pass the extensions included a special election in June, legislative action with the approval of the governor or as an initiative on a November ballot. Due to logistics and politics, it looks like November might be the most realistic possibility. Two problems present themselves under that scenario. First, the taxes will have expired by then and there will likely be a semantic discussion about whether the taxes are extensionsand#8221; or and#8220;increases.and#8221; Second, how many people will be living in budget limbo until November?

TTUSD is fortunate enough to be a basic aid district which allows us to receive additional funds from our high property values. As everyone knows, those values have decreased in the last few years, but TTUSD has been less impacted by state cuts than many other districts that do not enjoy our same classification. That insulation is becoming thinner.

Under the Basic Aid Fair Share Cut, TTUSD has given back $1.4 million for the 2010-2011 school year. Conservative projections for the 2011-2012 school year have TTUSD giving back $2.7 million. The worst-case numbers could be as high as $4.7 million. Where do those numbers come from? Districts that are not basic aid are looking at losing anywhere from $350 per student up to $800 per student in state funding. Basic aid districts are and#8220;giving backand#8221; funds in direct proportion to what non-basic aid districts are losing. In other words, the basic aid status that provides an additional $9 million for TTUSD is in jeopardy. The threat is here in the form of a fair share cut; the next step could be the abolition of basic aid status altogether. Admittedly, it would take legislation to abolish basic aid status, but how long can it be before calls for equity cause a cash-strapped state to begin looking anywhere and everywhere for funding? Oh yeah, and that range of cuts is in addition to the projected 3 percent decline in property tax revenue, which translates to another $1 million in funding.

Even with the extensions, TTUSD will suffer cuts in the coming years. However, those cuts are dwarfed by some of the worst-case scenarios being tossed around by the state. Locally we will face increased class sizes, especially at the elementary level. For several years we have been hearing more and more about a lack of research supporting small classes and increased student achievement. That being said, it is difficult to find a charter or private school touting their large class sizes as a selling point.

California has had to lower the minimum number of instructional days for students from 180 to 175. Worst-case scenarios have the number being set as low as 150. As a result of our fair share cut and lower revenue due to the declining property values locally, next year TTUSD students will have 176 instructional days, down from 180 this year.

Some schools in California have had to consider cutting and even eliminating things such as counseling, athletics, electives, transportation and physical education. Thanks to Measure A, basic aid status, parents paying higher participation fees and community members supporting local fundraisers, TTUSD has not had to make the same drastic decisions that other districts have.

The discussion around education has become an argument in which the goals of the various groups involved (students, parents, teachers, schools, and unions) have been portrayed as being mutually exclusive. Donand#8217;t we intuitively know that solutions are never as simple as we want them to be?

Members of the TTEA, the local teacherand#8217;s union, will be attending a rally this Friday in Sacramento and would like to invite any and all community members to attend. Not only do you not have to be in a union to participate, you donand#8217;t even have to like unions. Feel free to wear your and#8220;I donand#8217;t like unionsand#8221; T-shirt; just donand#8217;t forget your and#8220;I support studentsand#8221; sign.

Too often, the groups who have a stake in education have found themselves at opposite ends of the table. This seems like a good opportunity for those groups to stand shoulder to shoulder for an interest everyone has in common: Students.

Nik Fertitta is a teacher at Truckee High School and a member of the local teachers union, Tahoe Truckee Education Association.