| "Flunk the budget, not our children!" read picket signs held high during last Friday's rally at Sycamore Valley Elementary School in Danville.
Concerned parents gathered outside in the hot afternoon sun to protest Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's $4.8 billion in proposed cuts to education funding statewide - cuts they say will devastate school systems.
"The proposed California state budget flunks the basic test of good government: It hurts our children," said Denise Jennison, president of the San Ramon Valley Council of PTAs.
"Events such as this one today send a strong message to our legislators," she said.
State Assemblyman Guy Houston (R., 15th) and State Sen. Tom Torlakson (D., 7th) attended the rally to listen to concerns and speak their piece, along with Danville Mayor Candace Andersen, Superintendent of Schools Rob Kessler and other speakers.
"Our fear is that the parents in general don't realize the magnitude of what these cuts mean," said the organizer of the rally, Patty Hoyt, who also serves on the PTA council.
The governor's proposal would mean $7 million to $8 million in cuts to the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. This would result in larger class sizes, cuts in vital programs like special education, reduced library hours and layoffs at all levels, PTA members say.
School district spokesman Terry Koehne said the cuts will mainly affect department budgets and some non-teaching positions will be eliminated. He said teachers are not being laid off at this time.
"I have to tell you it's really depressing," trustee Rachel Hurd told the group at the rally. "As I look through this list of cuts I can't help but feel that if we do them, we're moving backwards."
Faced with a $3.3 billion state deficit, Schwarzenegger proposed cutting 10 percent from every state agency for fiscal year 2008-09. He cited the budget system as being broken and in need of reform.
But education advocates throughout the state are up in arms, saying students didn't create the budget crisis and shouldn't be the ones paying for it.
The California State PTA says the budget can't be balanced with cuts alone; the state needs to increase revenue, too. Torlakson spoke to this point at the rally. The senator didn't advocate raising taxes per se, but he did point out that California residents are paying less today than they did 10 years ago.
With a different take, Houston said he stands behind the governor and remains firm in the belief that raising taxes would hurt Californians. But he does support enhancing revenue at the local level, for example, through Measure D funds.
Measure D, also called the Excellence in Education Act or parcel tax, would raise money for the school district by increasing assessment fees from $90 to $166 per year. The parcel tax will be on the June 3 ballot and needs a two-thirds vote to pass.
Houston pointed out that only 30 cents of each tax dollar at the state level would go toward education whereas 100 percent of the Measure D funds would go directly into schools.
"I think the math of 100 cents vs. 30 cents makes a lot of sense," he said.
Andersen encouraged residents to vote "yes" on Measure D this summer. She said the outstanding quality of life in Danville is in large part due to the excellent schools in the area.
A junior at San Ramon Valley High School who spoke representing the student voice told the crowd, "We have benefited from skilled teachers and great academic programs."
She asked legislators not to deny her younger peers that same opportunity.
Parents and education advocates are also calling for legislators to uphold Proposition 98, the minimum school funding guarantee.
Prop 98 guarantees that funds allocated to K-14 education cannot go below a certain minimum, approximately 40 percent of the state budget.
Schwarzenegger has proposed suspending Prop 98 in order to carry out the education cuts. A two-thirds vote in the California Legislature and the governor's approval are needed to suspend the law.
"I'm here to say we won't suspend Prop 98!" Torlakson boomed at the rally.
The promise inspired cheers throughout the audience. However, the senator pointed out they still need the votes to make it happen.
The Flunk the Budget Fridays campaign was spearheaded by the California State PTA as a way to engage local PTAs and communities. Fridays are the day legislators are typically back home in their districts.
The more ways people can get the message to their representatives the better, said Hoyt.
Just last week PTA member Chris Hopkins rode his unicycle from Montair Elementary School in Danville to the State Capitol in Sacramento, where he delivered a "working" calculator to lawmakers, implying theirs must be broken.
Janet Abelson, Legislation Director for the 32nd District PTA, encouraged people to get involved by contacting their representatives, or visiting www.srvcouncilpta.org.
"We can't balance the budget on the backs of our children," she said.
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