Signatures needed for ballot initiative to change education funding

Sandy Feretto

Redwood Times

Cinnamon O'Neill Paula, executive director of the Garberville-Redway Area Chamber of Commerce, is working with Educate Our State to get an initiative on the ballot this November that aims to provide for more transparency and stabilize state funding for education.

The initiative, called The Protection of Local School Revenues Act of 2014, was designed by Educate Our State, which Paula said is a grassroots group of parents throughout the state of California who "recognize that something needs to change with the education system."

"We are parents that have tried to make change within our own districts and our own schools and quickly realized that it wasn't just a local funding problem that the schools were having, it was a statewide problem," Paula said in an interview with the Redwood Times.

Paula said she found Educate Our State a few years ago when the state trigger cuts were threatening Southern Humboldt school transportation. Though most of the people in Educate Our State were not having the same transportation issues, Paula reconnected with the organization later when she had gotten more involved in broader school funding issues.

Paula explained that Educate Our State was started in 2009 by six mothers of school-age children in San Francisco that had tried to fix things on a local level and realized they could not bake-sale their way out of the funding issues that were facing the education system in the state. The mothers had a town hall meeting and formed the group, then joined with parents all over the state who felt the same way and were willing to step up and try to make change happen, Paula said. She is now a community leader with Educate Our State and has started a pilot chapter in Southern Humboldt.

Paula recently attended an Educate Our State conference in LA where she learned about the proposed initiative and other changes in state funding mechanisms for education.

She pointed out that we are lucky in this area because our local school superintendent, Catherine Scott, knows a lot about the new state funding requirements.

Paula explained that initially Educate Our State had looked at trying to close the loophole in Prop. 13 that allows commercial property to be transferred without reassessment. But when they researched state funding and budgeting, the group realized there was no guarantee that funding generated by closing the Prop. 13 loophole would go to education.

That was partly because of Prop. 57, passed in 2004, that secured local property taxes for almost everything but education. So, Paula said, "because the state was broke and needed to pay debts ... they decided they would take that property tax that was no longer secured at the local level for anything and they would put it into the general fund and they would give it back to the schools as they saw fit." She said the state called it a "triple flip" and it has caused a loss to education funding of about six billion dollars a year.

Paula said that Educate Our State is not sure that every school district will get more funding if the initiative passes, but they think it will stabilize the funding so that school districts will not have to wait every year to find out how much money they are getting after deferrals as they do now. If Prop. 13 can be reformed, she said, the schools will do a lot better. There does not seem to be a lot of opposition to the initiative because it does not raise taxes, Paula pointed out, and provides for more transparency with education funding and property tax.

Paula said that 1.3 million signatures are needed by April to get the initiative on the ballot in November. She said she hopes everyone is registered to vote or registers soon.

Paula is the parent of four boys who go to Southern Humboldt schools, and she views this project as a long-term goal. She does not think that her older children will see the benefits, but her younger ones might. She said she does not want to hand the current education funding mess to her kids to try to fix for their kids.

Paula expressed the opinion that if parents have to raise money to fund school basics like teachers, it is more like a privatized school system. She pointed out that taxes the public pays for schools should go to public schooling. "I want one or the other," she said, "Not both."

Paula said anyone who wants to gather signatures, endorse the initiative or help out in any way could reach her by phone at 223-0165 or by email at sohumkids@gmail.com. The initiative can viewed on the website educateourstate.org.

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