Although they leaned Republican in most of the races and they're generally opposed to new and higher taxes, Stanislaus County voters joined other Californians in narrowly supporting Proposition 30, and we're glad they did. It shows that even with their frustration with the Legislature, local citizens put education first.
Without this initiative, a number of school districts faced millions of dollars in cuts, Modesto Junior College would have had to slash more classes and students at California State University, Stanislaus, would have faced additional tuition hikes. The quarter-cent increase in the sales tax, which takes effect Jan. 1, and the increase in income taxes for those making more than $250,000 a year, won't solve all of the problems of education, but it should eliminate any possibility of a radically shortened school year.
Despite the expected funding from Proposition 30, at least one school district in our area appears headed for serious problems in the very near future.
Denair Unified School District has critical budget problems. Although it has been dealing with declining enrollment which reduces per-student revenue from the state the district has continued to maintain small class sizes (meaning fewer teaching positions have been eliminated), based its 2012-13 budget on overly optimistic numbers and and hasn't gotten enough in the way of concessions from employees. In other words, the district's wounds are largely self-inflicted. Denair operates both charter and traditional programs and that adds to the complexity of its problems.
Denair isn't alone in its financial challenges, and school boards throughout the county need to continue to keep a tight rein on their budgets, resisting the inevitable pressure from employee unions to restore or raise salaries and benefits with Proposition 30 revenue. Yielding to this kind of pressure would put districts right back where they are today.
Getting any new tax passed in this economy is nothing short of a miracle, and it is a testament to the importance of education in our state. The expectation by taxpayers will be that districts use the funds intelligently and frugally making the very most of every dollar they receive. It is in this light that the Modesto City Schools board should abort their plans to build a pool at Enochs High School. Even if the funds are from Mello-Roos taxes funds that were collected beyond what was authorized, according to an outside legal analysis the perception is that the county's largest district is not being a good steward of our tax dollars if it proceeds with the Enochs pool in addition to the new football stadium under construction at Gregori High School. It's not the right time for such an extravagant expenditure, and it will only further infuriate those who supported Proposition 30 and justify the opposition of those who didn't.
The passage of Proposition 30 should not be seen by the schools as a permanent new funding source, or additional funds with which to do irresponsible things. The higher sales tax will be in effect for four years and the higher income tax for seven years. By passing Proposition 30, voters have signaled that they value education above their own pocketbooks.