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Do you think the state Legislature should repeal the cap on school district reserves?

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, July 10th, 2015 at 8:45 pm in Education.

When voters approved the Gov. Jerry Brown-backed Proposition 2 state rainy day fund measure last November, only one group opposed it — the grass roots Educate Our State student advocacy group.

The Oakland-based organization consists mainly of parents throughout the state who want to give a voice to students who don’t get to vote on initiatives that affect them, said Katherine Welch, a board member of the group and Piedmont parent.

“When you’re parents and you’re kids, you have no power or money,” she said. “It’s just sad. We spent $8,000 to oppose Proposition 2 and the other side spent $12 million.”

At the time, Educate Our State was trying to sound the alarm about a trailer bill linked to the measure that could trigger a cap on the amount of money school districts can keep in reserve. But while some school district officials were also worried about it, Welch said few were willing to publicly oppose the popular measure.

“We had people calling us, saying, ‘Don’t do this,’” Welch recalled. “It was a rude awakening. There’s just so much intimidation in politics.”

Instead, others who were concerned about the cap said it could be fixed later, via legislative action. Even state Superintendent Tom Torlakson told me during his re-election campaign that he opposed the cap, but he believed the best strategy for dealing with it would be to try to get it changed after the measure passed.

But expectations that the Legislature would repeal the cap have not come true. Instead, a Senate Bill aimed at repealing the cap was withdrawn and a similar bill by Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, was shot down in the Assembly Education Committee.

Now, the California School Boards Association, or CSBA, is sounding the alarm. The organization made up of elected trustees throughout the state is gathering its members for news conferences and launching a media campaign aimed at building public pressure to remove the cap, which they fear could prevent districts from saving enough money to stave off cuts in the future, when another recession hits.

While Welch is glad others are finally jumping on the anti-cap bandwagon, she said she wonders why they weren’t so vocal back in November.

“We wished people would have pushed when it was on the ballot,” she said, “so we wouldn’t have to waste so much political energy.”

Lafayette school district Trustee Suzy Pak, who is also on the Educate Our State board, expressed similar views.

“We pounded the pavement trying to get the word out about what Proposition 2 was going to do,” she said. “It’s frustrating that we were saying pretty much the same thing all along. There were a couple of other groups that knew the implications of passing (it). It’s just demoralizing that now that a statewide organization like CSBA is campaigning to try to repeal a part of it. I wonder what was happening pre-election — why we couldn’t work together toward that.”

San Ramon Valley schools Trustee Denise Jennison said she and others in her district have been speaking out about the cap for a long time. Last month, she tweeted to the state Department of Education and Torlakson: “If you are committed to #localcontrol you should have done something about caps on district reserves.”

Do you think the Legislature should repeal the cap?

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2 Responses to “Do you think the state Legislature should repeal the cap on school district reserves?”

  1. Doctor J Says:

    NO ! The legislature and governor intend that dollars intended for children’s education be spent not squandered away in reserve accounts. The governors rainy day fund and the legislature will have to deal with downturns in the economy. MDUSD is the poster child for hiding money from the public in its budget — most recently in textbook accounts and now in contingent legal expenses when they are no declared legal contingencies. And who knows what else ?

  2. Jim Says:

    State and county overseers used to focus on making sure districts had reserves that were large enough. Now they want to make sure they don’t have reserves that are TOO large. The legislators and educrat higher-ups don’t trust these big districts to do their job (by and large, a sensible view). But they always think a little more micromanagement will finally make these districts accountable. It won’t. It never does.

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