By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, said Wednesday that without proposed tax and fee extensions, school districts across the state could expect to lose another 10 percent of their budgets.
Speaking at a meeting of the Rohnert Park-Cotati Educators Association, Torlakson said he was trying to spread the word about the consequences of allowing revenues from sales and income taxes, as well as vehicle license fees, to go away.
“We’re at a real turning point in California history,” he told about three dozen people. “As an optimist, I think we will succeed.”
Torlakson’s high hopes didn’t the quell fears of some teachers in the struggling Cotati-Rohnert Park School District, which issued layoff notices to 13 teachers and has closed four schools in the past five years.
Some worried the district, which has 300 teachers, is headed to a state takeover.
Christine Minhondo, a teacher at Lawrence Jones Middle School, said with ever-increasing class sizes and the loss of essentials such as libraries, things appear bleak.
“It’s scary looking into the future,” she told a panel that included local superintendents and state and local elected officials.
Others suggested legislators need to change the system for funding edcuation, removing inequities that give some districts more money than others.
Despite the district’s financial woes, a state takeover is not imminent, said interim Superintendent Robert Haley.
“We need to move off the topic,” Haley said. “It will not happen.”
Meanwhile, Torlakson, a former Contra Costa County teacher and state legislator, agreed things need to improve.
He said schools lost about a third of their funding during the economc recession that occurred under the Schwarzenegger administration and about 100 districts are facing takeovers.
“We have the biggest classes in the nation and one of the shortest school years,” he said.
Torlakson said four Republican lawmakers in the Central Valley and Inland Empire are considering voting with Democratic colleagues to either approve the extensions or put them on the ballot.
“They are near to doing the right thing,” Torlakson said.
If the support doesn’t come through, officials need to find a fallback that isn’t based on cuts alone, said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat who also was on the panel.
Just what that would be was unclear.
“Stay tuned,” Huffman told the anxious crowd. “We are going to get through this.”
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or email@example.com.