Sue Solomon, 34th District Parent Teacher Association Legislative Chair and a Newhall School District board member, gathered with 40 PTA members at the Greenhouse Cafe on Monday.
The parents have become concerned about the quality of their children’s education after the Saugus Union School District issued 80+ Reduction in Force (RIF) notices to teachers last month.
Fingers are being pointed, not at the local school boards, but toward the California Department of Education and the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
“What the state is saying, the way they have school districts operate, is that teachers are disposable. And that’s just a crappy statement,” said Solomon.
Plum Canyon Elementary School PTA member Erika Derry bristles at the suggestion that money has been mishandled at the school board level or that the superintendent hasn’t been proactive.
“I sit on many boards, parent boards, advisory boards with our school district, which is Saugus. And I very much disagree. I see the school district as well as with our teacher’s unions have been working very well together to try and protect our children from this budget crisis,” said Derry.
The problem according to Solomon is that school districts have been forced to budget based on “fake numbers” and speculation on tax revenue.
“You have to create a school district budget on numbers that aren’t real because they don’t know what those revenues are going to be until after taxes are collected. And they’ve been wrong and they’ve been low every year for four years,” Solomon said.
PTA parents have hung banners at Plum Canyon Elementary.
Although the Saugus district has recently received the most negative attention due to the RIF notices issued last month, Solomon says every school district in the Santa Clarita Valley has had to make similar $6 million budget cuts that resulted in layoffs and forced furlough days.
“Every school district Sulphur, Castaic, Hart, Newhall have all dealt with this in just different pathways, but it all equals the same and it will all come out in the same wash in the 2013-2014 year and we’re all going to hit a wall if the bleeding isn’t stopped,” Solomon.
To staunch the fiscal bloodletting, PTA parents are taking initiative – literally: The Our Children, Our Future 2012: The Education Initiative.
Monday the parents began gathering signatures to put the initiative on the November 2012 ballot. (Sponsors of the initiative must collect 504,760 signatures, according to ballotpedia.org.)
“What we’re planning on doing with this group of 40 and others is we’re going to have a big rally, we’re going to have a valley wide rally, protesting further cuts and getting the word out there to our voting community that they need to look at this and be informed voters,” said Solomon.
Although delighted, Solomon admits that the recent activism by parents is new.
“I’m going to be blunt. I’ve been doing legislation in the Santa Clarita Valley for PTA for 10 plus years. When I have tried before in the past to organize things I’ve had very little response because we have been able to take care of our own in Santa Clarita,” said Solomon.
Solomon agrees that elementary schools from high income areas are finally starting to feel the same financial pinch the poorer schools have been suffering for years. Money collected from wealthier PTAs have allowed certain schools to buffer their children until now.
“They’ve supplemented, or supplanted really, what should be there. They put money forth for our music program. Forty-five thousand the parents have raised,” said Solomon.
According to Solomon, Stevenson Ranch parents raised over $50 thousand to put in a science lab in their school.
Contrast that with Cedarcreek Elementary in the Saugus district, where in one kindergarten classroom only two out of 20 parents paid the $5 necessary to join the PTA. A planned trip to the farm will be cancelled because parents can’t or won’t pay the $9 necessary to pay for admission.
Solomon says continued budget cuts have united parents despite the “volatile” issue of enrichment advantages and for now she’s glad to have broad support for Our Children, Our Future 2012.
Currently, there are three tax initiatives battling to be placed on the ballot, Our Children, Our Future (officially titled “Tax for Education and Early Childhood Programs”), The Millionaire’s Tax (officially titled “Tax to Benefit Public Schools, Social Services, Public Safety and Road Maintenance”) and Gov. Brown’s Proposal (officially titled “Temporary Taxes to Fund Education, Guaranteed Local Public Safety Funding”).
Derry says that while all three support schools, only Our Children, Our Future has education as it sole directive.
“The money that is going to be allotted for this initiative goes straight to education and that’s where my priority is as a parent,” said Derry.
On the other hand, what all three initiatives have in common is an increase in taxes. Solomon knows that many people believe they pay enough taxes already.
“People can say that and people make choices every day about that, but you have to look at where we are now and where we’ll be if we don’t as citizens — it’s our responsibility to keep California moving forward to keep it competitive with the other 49 states and the rest of the world. It’s our responsibility to do that,” said Solomon.
Solomon plans on taking the PTA’s concerns to local politicians. But to be effective she says parents will have to join her.
“I was telling these ladies today, I need you to come with me to talk to them. I do it as a school board member, but it does not have the same effect as creating a personal story for a local elected official. They’re not seeing their voters in the eye, straight in the eye,” said Solomon.
The 34th District PTA will be holding a candidate forum for the November 38th Assembly election.
“It’s the ballot box that hits those politicians,” said Solomon.
Derry is glad parents are upset and are ready to let legislators how they feel on behalf of the children.
“We are their voices for them and I think that’s exactly what PTA is all about,” said Derry.
Governor Jerry Brown has reportedly been attempting to get the competing initiatives to drop out to prevent voter confusion. Neither the Millionaire’s Tax nor the Our Children, Our Future have been willing to concede.
To learn more about the Our Children, Our Future initiative, click here.
To learn more about the Millionaire’s Tax, click here.
To learn more about Gov. Brown’s proposal, click here.