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Some legislative relief for schools

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: April 21, 2008 1:20 a.m.
Updated: June 22, 2008 5:03 a.m.
The most distinguishing factor between national, state and local government is the ability of local politicos to shed the mantle of partisan politics in an effort to work together to achieve the common good. The city of Santa Clarita is a prime example of that very fact.

With that in mind, I offer hearty congratulations to Mayor Bob Kellar and Laurie Ender, the clear winners in Santa Clarita's City Council election. Bob Spierer, Diane Trautman, and Maria Gutzeit are also to be congratulated.

The positive strengths of each candidate validate their commitment to the needs of our growing and ever-changing community. Although the campaign was seemingly bitter at times, the shared goals of the candidates remained constant. They only differed in their perceived pathways to obtain those goals. Every debate was highlighted less by pros and cons than by methods of achievement.

Santa Clarita is truly a unique community, not only in California, but also in the United States. It is a bubble-like enclave just over the hill from the city of Los Angeles. It is so near to our nation's second-largest city, and yet so far away.

There are some particularly discerning reasons for our moving to Santa Clarita. We are here because it is a relatively safe place in which to live. We are here because of the great public education facilities. We are here because this is an environment that is wonderfully planned, yet pocketed with quaint rural settings. In short, we are here in Santa Clarita because we can easily access the big city while living in a Mayberry-like community. We want - no, we need - to keep it that way.

Another great thing about our city' indeed, about our entire valley - is the marvelously symbiotic relationship between all of our elected officials, including business, educational and civic leaders. These important ties enable us to continue to be successful in the maintenance of our idyllic community. Whether it be fighting the Elsmere Canyon landfill, protesting the Cemex mining and the Las Lomas project, or passing bonds to build and modernize schools, local Democrats and Republicans join together in the best interests of the Santa Clarita Valley.

We now find ourselves embroiled in a battle to preserve the quality of Santa Clarita living. The governor has suggested a 10 percent across-the-board cut in all budgetary funds. These direct and ancillary cuts can negatively impact the quality of public education in our valley. Our local school districts will be forced to eliminate valuable programs. These cuts may increase the size of classrooms and cause a sticky loss-of-jobs versus loss-of-kids' programs controversy.

Once again, however, Santa Clarita has risen to the occasion by joining forces to fight the common cause of preserving our great local public education system. The Santa Clarita Education Coalition is a newly formed group of local activists that includes teachers, school administrators, classified employees, school board members and parents. They have banded together in an effort to encourage the governor and state legislators to retain the current budget for education.

Almost 90 percent of our high school sophomores pass the California High School Exit Examination, and yet the school districts in our valley do not receive their fair share of state education funds.

California does not reward school districts based upon success.

Even in these times of economic downturn, the state government continues to mandate how our fair city and schools must govern, yet it does not provide the monies to do so.

Well-meaning state legislators enact laws that contain popular new methodologies affecting student health and safety issues. These are deemed necessary for all school districts, but the state does not appropriate funds to pay for the costly legislation. Often the mandates are not applicable to the needs of a specific school district, yet all districts must pay for the mandates out of their budgetary "general funds."

While it is important that the state have deep regard for student health and safety issues, it is equally important that those mandated laws be fully funded by the state. General fund monies are negatively impacted by ongoing new mandates, forcing school districts into dropping local-specific programs that are uniquely necessary.

While Democrats in the state Legislature continue to press for tax increases, Republicans push for accountability in the form of eliminating unnecessary, ineffective and duplicitous programs.

California Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines wants to hand back financial flexibility to local school officials.

Assemblyman Cameron Smyth of Santa Clarita agrees with Villines, and he endorses a plan that allows schools to "carry over" any unspent money from categorical funds (monies dedicated for specific purposes). Another Republican proposal would consolidate the categorical programs from 62 to six. This would allow districts to use funds to better suit their local needs.

This bottom-up rather than top-down approach definitely is advantageous to Santa Clarita. It is particularly refreshing to know that some of our state legislators recognize that local communities function more efficiently when allowed to freely govern their own individual districts. Maybe it is because we, on the local level, are not so heavily entrenched in the world of lobbyists, entitlements and earmarks.

The ability to rally 'round to achieve success is what makes Santa Clarita strong. It serves us well to join together in support of our city leaders for the betterment and preservation our great community.

Is this a cheerleading, rah-rah column? As the famous comic book character Little Beaver said to cowboy Red Ryder, "You betchum!"

Paul B. Strickland Sr. is a resident of Santa Clarita and a member of the William S. Hart Union High School District governing board. His column reflects his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Right Here, Right Now" rotates among local Republican writers.


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