By MARIA PELUSO and FRANK PUGH
Maria Peluso is a labor representative for Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union. Frank Pugh is the immediate past president of the California School Boards Association. They both are members of the Sonoma County Education Coalition, which also includes representatives from the American Federation of Teachers, Association of California School Administrators, California School Employees Association, California Teachers Association, Parent Teacher Association and the Sonoma County Office of Education.
School boards throughout Sonoma County are facing a daunting task. By next Tuesday, all school districts must issue preliminary notices to each and every teacher and administrator whose position could be eliminated next school year.
This is an annual requirement, specified in our state education laws, but this year is like no other we have experienced. With the level of education funding now dependent on Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to extend the temporary taxes put in place in 2009, our schools must meet their March 15 deadline anticipating the worst-case scenario. Failure to do so could place them in possible state receivership.
These preliminary layoff decisions must be made by districts as we wait to see if the state Legislature approves the governor’s request to put the extension of temporary taxes on the June ballot. Assuming that this does occur, the state of limbo for Sonoma County schools will continue as we await the results of the June vote.
What is the worst-case scenario for our schools? The nonpartisan legislative analyst has prepared a budget scenario showing that, without the tax extension, K-12 school funding could be cut an additional $4.8 billion statewide. As the governor recently explained, this could mean cutting four or five weeks out of the school year.
With this in mind, Sonoma County school districts will soon issue the largest number of preliminary layoff notices in our history. Based on a poll of local school districts, the Sonoma County Office of Education estimates that more than 200 notices will be sent to teachers and school administrators across the county. This wave of preliminary notices does not include a second group that will go out in April or May to classified staff. These school employees — instructional assistants, bus drivers, custodians, food service workers and clerical support staff — don’t hold teaching credentials, yet they comprise more than 45 percent of the public education workforce in our county.
The pressure on each school district is enormous. The Sonoma County Office of Education anticipates that our local schools could lose $23 million if the tax extension is not put on the ballot and approved by voters. And, remember, this is in addition to all the education funding cuts enacted since 2007.
If a $23 million cut is made in our county’s education budget, our schools will have lost 30 percent of their revenue. That’s more than the 27 percent loss that occurred during the Great Depression.
In response to the last three years of budget reductions, local districts have already eliminated summer school programs, increased class size, shortened the school calendar, closed campuses, eliminated or reduced bus services, reduced counseling and nursing services, closed school libraries, cut adult education programs, tabled the adoption of new instructional materials and reduced custodial and maintenance services.
Another round of budget slashing on top of all this will severely affect core education programs.
It is for this reason that the Sonoma County Education Coalition was formed, bringing together all facets of our K-12 public school community to speak with one voice. Members of the Education Coalition are working together to support the governor’s budget proposal, help secure the ballot measure that will mitigate further cuts to education and encourage the citizens of Sonoma County to support their local schools.
We urge you to call or write your legislators today and let them know that you support putting the tax extension on the June ballot. For the school in your neighborhood and the one across town, it is imperative that the governor’s budget — and the tax extension — be approved.