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Wholesale school cuts not the answer

Posted: March 30, 2008 3:44 a.m.
Updated: May 31, 2008 5:02 a.m.
If it weren't a profoundly bad political idea, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger right now might be saying, "I told you so."

Instead, Santa Clarita Valley school districts and others around the state are digging in their heels and telling the governor, "We're not gonna take it."

He must be thinking, "Tell me about it."

As California's economy takes one of its periodic - and highly forseeable - downswings, revenue is (predictably) drying up and the state is (once again) in dire financial straits.

In response, Schwarzenegger has proposed across-the-board spending cuts for all state programs.

That includes education. His plan would suspend schools' constitutional funding guarantee under Proposition 98, saving $4 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1. He's proposing $400 million in cuts to schools in the current fiscal year.

As William S. Hart Union High School District board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine put it, "We have done our part, but the governor is cutting us off at the legs here."

One could argue, however, that it's the state Legislature and the voters of California who have cut off the legs of school districts statewide.

It was the last state financial crisis that propelled Schwarzenegger into office in 2003.

Optimistically riding the wave of his apparent mandate, the Republican governor set to work reforming the state's finances. When his proposals were rebuffed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature, he put them before the people in the form of several propositions.

In 2005, voters turned him down flat, on all measures.

And as the state rebounded from the high-tech and financial-market downturn that came under Gray Davis's second term, fiscal reform was pushed to the back burner.

Until now, of course, as we reel from the newest downturn, brought to us by the "mortgage meltdown."

In fact, budgeting for the Golden State is not unlike taking a roller coaster ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Any student of California history can see that we need an economic buffer, built during the good times, to see us through the bad times.

Such was Schwarzenegger's proposal. No doubt it was flawed, but at least it sought to deal with the issue.
Some say Schwarzenegger's proposed 10-percent-across-the-board-cut is a ploy to get everyone to recognize the gravity of the situation - and then do something about it.

It's time we did just that. But not on the backs of California's students, teachers and others who can afford it least.

We need a non-partisan economic summit to hammer out a way to stabilize the state's economy now. And we need everyone to get on board with it.

That's the only way we can give educators, now and in the future, the legs to do their jobs properly.


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