Posts Tagged ‘parcel tax’

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, or Arts Education Advocacy in Reality

September 9, 2010

By Victoria Plettner Saunders

My name is Victoria Plettner-Saunders and I am one of the founders of the San Diego Alliance for Arts Education, a local advocacy network initiated by the California Alliance for Arts Education. While our formal alliance launch was in May of 2010, we actually began to gain recognition for arts education advocacy with the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) in June 2009 when we successfully convinced the SDUSD School Board to remove the Visual and Performing Arts Department (VAPA) from a list of things to eliminate to save money. At that time, we were a consistent presence at school board meetings and our message was clear: a) we want to be in partnership with the district on arts education issues and b) “We aren’t going away.” Here’s what that meant in reality.

In May we officially launched the San Diego Alliance for Arts Education and invited the school board president Richard Barrera to talk to our invited guests about the status of arts education in the District. By July, I’m in his speed dial and he was calling for my help. The school board is voting on Tuesday to put forth a ballot measure for a parcel tax to create local revenues for the District’s budget, he says. He wants to know if we can help by coming down to speak in support of it. He explained what is now referred to as Prop. J. The funds will be distributed to each school on a per student basis and decisions about using the funds will be up to each school. However, they are to be used for student instruction only and not for administration or overhead. Wearing my advocacy hat, I asked him if there is specific language to ensure that visual and performing arts instruction can be a recipient of the funds. I am concerned about specific language for arts education because without it, principals could think that the funds can only be used for science, technology, English and mathematics instruction. He says he’ll make sure that arts education is included. I tell him that I will be there and I send out an email asking for others to come down in support as well.

At the meeting, I get up and make a presentation during which I remind them that “we aren’t going away.” This time I indicate that their prioritization of arts education is important to us and that we will support them in finding a way to continue funding it via the parcel tax. The presentation detailing what will happen if Prop. J doesn’t pass described the loss of athletics, increased class sizes; loss of GATE, and half day kindergarten, but nowhere is there any indication that arts education could be affected.

Afterwards, I asked Mr. Barrera why the presentation didn’t indicate that the arts will be victims of the budget ax. We both know that if the District doesn’t find new revenues, hard decisions will have to be made and we can’t expect to be “saved” while other equally as important budget items are lost. To which he replied, “To be honest with you Victoria, I think they’re scared to. Arts education advocates made so much noise last year when they put it on the elimination list.” I’d like to believe that’s true, but I’ve learned that their campaign managers have a different perspective on what polls well for these things and “arts programs” weren’t part of it. I don’t necessarily agree with them and it hasn’t stopped us from putting the word out there ourselves.

In August (so much for my summer work slow down) a group of us met with the Prop J. campaign manager to talk about how the arts community can help. You see, while they calculated that the loss of arts programs didn’t poll well as a campaign strategy, we know that arts supporters and parents do care and need to know the potential repercussions. In the end they recognized the importance of our work on behalf of Prop J and are giving us a page on the Prop J website that explains what will happen to arts education if it doesn’t pass.

And so for the rest of our summer “vacation” we strove to become the best team players we can be. We want to show the school board that the arts community cares about arts education and that we are willing to work for the greater good to help ensure its survival. Advocacy can often come down to relationships and leverage. Our strong show of support helps us to continue building a positive and productive relationship with the school board, which makes it harder for them to eliminate arts education in the coming budget decisions without communicating with us first. It is now September 7, summer is essentially over and my husband and I and other arts education advocates are gearing up to educate the arts community about Prop J and will start our first phone banking tonight. Election Day can’t come soon enough.

Editorial Note: The San Diego Alliance for Arts Education is also a participant in the California Alliance’s district election survey project. School board candidates will fill out a survey, which will published on the Alliance website starting in October, giving voters a way to learn more about the candidates’ views on arts education. The survey project is one more way that advocates in San Diego are bringing the importance of arts education to decision makers attention.

The California PTA Makes the Case for the Parcel Tax Initiative

April 20, 2010

By Debbie Look, Legislative Director of the California State PTA

Alliance: As school districts all over California struggle to make tough budget decisions, the California PTA has undertaken a ballot initiative to make it easier for local communities to create local funding streams. The Parcel Tax initiative would lower the passage rate for parcel taxes from two-thirds to 55 percent, making it easier for local communities to augment state funding for education programs.

Although the Alliance has not taken a position on this initiative, we note the trend in several school districts, notably Los Angeles and Pasadena Unified, who are using it as an alternative funding stream for arts education programs, which are often the first to be eliminated when there are state budget cuts. We have worked with the PTA since our inception over thirty years ago – and as ever, applaud their commitment to the providing a quality education to all students.

California PTA: The fiscal crisis in California impacts us all, especially the children in our schools right now, who have seen funding for their education slashed by more than $17 billion. It’s easy to point fingers and lay blame, but there are better, bolder options. We need practical solutions that help our local communities help their children.

That is why the California State PTA strongly supports qualifying the Local Control of Local Classrooms Funding Act for the statewide ballot in November. Delegates representing our nearly 1 million PTA members throughout the state approved a resolution at our 2008 convention calling for such a reform. PTA has a long history of finding real-world solutions to challenges, and today we need that same can-do spirit. There is something that can be done, and the California State PTA is working to see that it is done, by helping to qualify this initiative. If we are successful, it will be remarkable as a true grass-roots achievement, accomplished by true volunteers rather than the usual paid signature gatherers.

PTA supports this initiative as it will allow our local communities to support their children, by making it easier for school districts to raise money with local parcel taxes by lowering the passage rate from the currently required two-thirds to 55 percent.  The initiative seeks to strengthen local control of California schools and improve education quality by helping public schools generate stable, local funds that cannot be taken by the state.  If qualified, all of the money raised from local parcel taxes would have to be spent in the classroom on educational materials and programs. The act also calls for strict accountability, including annual audits to ensure funds are used properly and the appointment of an independent citizen’s oversight committee to report to the local community on how the funds are spent.

The act limits the total dollar value of proposals using the act’s provisions put before voters in any given election, to $250 per parcel, adjusted over time for inflation. This will limit how fast parcel taxes can be increased. The Local Control of Local Classrooms Funding Act will not solve the state’s economic crisis on its own. It will not restore the billions of dollars of state funding already cut from our schools.  But it will make it easier for each community to help its own children. To learn more about the Act or to sign the petition, go to: www.improvedschoolfunding.com.

The choices we make in times of crisis are critical. There are more than 9 million children in California.  That means there are more than 9 million good reasons to give local communities the tools they need to help all children reach their full potential.  We ask that everyone who is seeking positive action, join our effort to gather the 1 million signatures we need by May 1 to qualify this crucial measure. The children of California need our help now.

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