MODESTO -- If you felt a warm breeze Wednesday morning, it might have been the collective sigh of relief breathed by every school employee in California. Stanislaus County districts alone dodged a $50 million bullet by avoiding the midyear cuts planned if Proposition 30 failed.
Teachers, support staff and administrators all pulled together to campaign for the tax initiative Gov. Jerry Brown created to stabilize state finances. The victory was sweet, and not just because of the money.
"My faith in Californians has been restored. I don't know that I give all the credit to the governor, but I think people truly understand the importance of education and their future. We did it!" said Diane Scott, principal of Rose Avenue Elementary School in Modesto.
Some 54 percent of Californians voted for the additional taxes for those earning $250,000 or more, as well as a quarter-cent sales tax hike for all.
"Almost makes me want to go buy a $4 cup of coffee so I can pay my penny," said Scott, who represents Modesto City Schools managers.
But the measure was failing in early returns Tuesday night. Lots of people went to bed fearing the worst, only to wake up to find the initiative had passed.
Among them was Denair Unified Superintendent Ed Parraz, whose district did not have the recommended contingency plan in case Proposition 30 lost. "Talk about a sigh of relief what a terrible night," he said.
Junior colleges also would have been hard hit had Proposition 30 failed. Yosemite Community College District would have lost $5.3 million, said Chancellor Joan Smith.
"The voters saved 1,164 full-time- equivalent students from not having the opportunity to pursue higher education," said Smith. She said she now has the happy task of planning for restoration of some of the district's course schedule.
Students take a vote
In Ceres Unified, teachers took an 8.5 percent cut several years ago, allowing the district to hold a structural surplus and build reserves, Superintendent Scott Siegel said. He'll be asking trustees to approve raising salaries now that the Proposition 30 cloud is gone.
"The promise the board made at the time (of the salary cut) was to give it back when they could," Siegel said.
In Chris Peterson's first-period government class at Modesto High School, juniors talked over the measure before taking a vote. Despite its school-focused sales pitch, it passed by a thin margin: 18-15.
Arguments in favor of Proposition 30, student Kunal Dhillon explained, were that it would support state services and schools while taxing only the rich. "It only affects people who can afford to pay a little more," he said. "We have a lack of funding for public schools."
The cons, student Reza Talieh said, were that it taxes small businesses, which could hurt the economy, and money-saving reforms should be made before raising taxes.
In a workshop Thursday, School Services of California President Ron Bennett said the measure may have been "oversold." Proposition 30 does not give more money to schools; it just saves them from having revenue slashed midyear. Many districts still have to make cuts.
"Prop. 30 wasn't a windfall for anyone. It sort of stops the bleeding," Bennett said. What it will do, he said, is buy time for the state to recover, and that will bring in more money for schools.
Next up, he said, may be a change in funding that would give more money for poor kids and English learners a change that would make a big difference for Central Valley districts.
The first of three meetings on the so-called "weighted formula" takes place in Sacramento today, Bennett said, a first step in reforming the state's overly complex school funding system.
That needs to happen, said Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon. "Although the passage of Prop. 30 is a relief for districts throughout the state, there remain serious challenges.
It is time for Sacramento legislators to really make education a priority and develop a funding model to support adequate funding for education," Changnon said.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.