Fighting Cuts to Education That Will Cost Irvine $18.5 million

During my term as a legislative action rep for the Sierra Vista Middle School in Irvine, I had the opportunity to work with Wendy Bokota, one of the most dedicated and passionate people I know in the areas of public education.  Simply put, Wendy has more integrity in her pinky that our GOP legislators in Sacramento hold collectively.

Wendy actually waited for the Governor with her kids at a Red Robin in Santa Ana during the special election and asked the Governor — to his face — about helping her teach her kids about keeping a promise.  Wendy is effetive in humanizing public education.  If we allow the Republicans in the Assembly and the Senate to make it more about numbers than children, then we’ve failed the next generation. 

Wendy speaks Truth to Power. And in Irvine, she leads the fight to protect education funding for the lowest funded district in the state.  Wendy has a Letter to the Editor and a statement made at a press conference I’m posting; find it after the jump:


Letter to the Editor
Re: Teachers, Parents Fight School Cuts

My district, Irvine Unified, will be forced to cut another $18 million based on the Governor’s proposed cuts.  We have already cut significant amounts from our budget and are running as lean as possible.  In 2003-04 we had to raise class sizes, reduce administrative and support staff, and eliminate programs for kids.  The cuts then were only $5 million! 

I have 3 children in elementary school that are getting a good education in Irvine, but will that continue?  Their teachers and the adults that support them are already being forced to do so much with so little.  What more can be cut?  No amount of parent fundraising or community donations can make up this proposed shortfall. 

The voters of California have over and over again voted to protect public education.  The Governor and the legislature need to listen to their constituents and show our children that education is a priority. 

Wendy Bokota

Parent of 3 children in Irvine schools

Press Conference statement — Wendy Bokota, Parent, Irvine & 4th District PTA Advocacy Committee Member: 

The parents of Orange County urge the governor and the legislature to support our schools. Voters passed Proposition 98, the state’s minimum school funding law, to ensure that our kids have the resources they need for a good education. Unfortunately Sacramento is threatening to suspend Prop 98 again –just three years after other devastating cuts—and give our students even fewer resources. In a state that already invests less per pupil than the rest of the country and that has the highest class sizes, this just isn’t acceptable to parents.  We already have hardly any school nurses, counselors, librarians, and other significant adults to connect with our kids.  The will of the people to support public education needs to be respected.

We are parent volunteers here today to speak on behalf of those who don’t really get much of a say in this debate: our children. We want the best for them, but Sacramento forces us to struggle to even get near the national average in school funding or class size.

My own children have gotten a good education at Irvine Unified. Their teachers and support staff do a great job with limited resources. But we can’t keep asking them to do more with less.  The proposed budget amounts to a loss of $18.5 million in Irvine alone. This budget takes our schools in the wrong direction. Parents in Orange County call on the legislature and governor to deal with the budget in a way that shows that our children and our schools are a priority. Let’s keep our schools on the right track, not set them back with massive cuts. Public Education is too important; we need a state budget that reflects that, and legislators who will ensure our schools get the resources they need to do the job.  Our kids deserve the chance to succeed.

 Governor Making Politics Local

State issues usually play out in Sacramento. But initiatives shift the battle to communities, where lines form on both sides.
By Jean O. Pasco
Times Staff Writer

May 30, 2005

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pledged to take his plans for changing state government to the people, he probably didn’t think about how it might set colleagues at odds.

But that’s what happens when real people become campaign spokesmen.

Mike Parham, an Irvine Unified School District trustee, is the man in the blue shirt sitting next to Schwarzenegger in a television commercial as the governor touts his ideas as essential to the state’s financial health.

Wendy Bokota, who chairs the Irvine PTA’s legislative action committee, criticized the governor in Newsweek magazine after attending a rally at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim to denounce the governor’s plan to alter the equation for school funding.

And when Parham dined in March with Schwarzenegger as a guest at an Irvine fundraiser, Bokota stood outside in the rain with 2,000 other protesters shouting, “Shame on you!” Her sign read, “Protect Prop. 98,” an initiative passed by voters in 1988 that set aside 40% of state revenues for schools.

Schwarzenegger is proposing to change those minimum-funding guarantees, one of three proposals his allies have sent to the secretary of state for placement on a ballot.

The governor has said he would decide by June 10 whether to have a special election on the measures this year, or wait until the June 2006 primary.

Parham and Bokota represent both sides of the political coin Schwarzenegger flipped into the crowd in January when he pledged to take his plans directly to voters.

Usually, the political machinations of crafting and adopting laws play out among the professionals in Sacramento. But by unilaterally drafting his ideas as initiatives, the governor shifted the debate from the Legislature to local communities, a strategy that has caused both sides to take to the streets.

When the governor filmed one of his TV commercials hawking his positions, he chose the lunchroom of an Irvine biotech company as his backdrop. And there, sitting at Schwarzenegger’s left elbow, is Parham. He is not identified and he doesn’t say anything, but many people in Irvine certainly recognized him as one of their school trustees.

And in short order, Parham, 35, a vice president of an investment banking firm, was asked to explain his support for the governor at the Irvine PTA’s legislative action committee meeting. He had already piqued PTA members and others by voting in the minority to oppose a school board resolution to protect Proposition 98.

“I support the governor’s efforts to change the system,” Parham told 15 volunteers at the PTA meeting.

“Companies that I work with are deciding that instead of buying in Arizona or Nevada, they’re going to stay in California because they’re comfortable with what the governor is trying to do,” he said. School funding will benefit by such corporate decisions to keep their business here, he said.

Parham, whose children are in first and fourth grades, prefaced his half-hour remarks by saying that he too was disappointed that a $1.3-billion revenue windfall announced this month was earmarked for roads and prisons, with none for education. But he said one idea he pushed — paying master teachers and administrators to help under-performing schools — was included in the governor’s proposed budget.

“The governor is operating in a real world with a real pie that’s finite,” Parham said. “Parents are paying taxes for a lot of reasons, not just education.”

Diplomacy aside, Bokota, 39, a mother of three, said parents must be warned that the governor’s spending proposals would “decimate” Proposition 98. One proposal, for example, would prohibit spending in good years from being set as base funding for future years.

Schwarzenegger introduced his initiative, the “Live Within Our Means Act,” even as he was being lambasted for reneging on a pledge to repay $2 billion taken last year from schools.

The governor countered by saying schools would get $3 billion more this coming year than last year.

The threat of future education cuts should be enough to get parents out onto street corners and holding picket signs, Bokota said.

Public confrontation is uncommon in the business world, she said, but is appropriate in policy debates. “We’re telling them, ‘You’re messing with our kids,’ ” she told Parham. “You have to show them some passion.”

The discussion distressed Jane Cashell, who said after the meeting that she felt powerless and frustrated in the face of a pending vote because there was no way to change what was going on the next ballot. About the only thing she can do is protest, she said — something she hasn’t done since the Vietnam War ended.

“I hate government by initiative,” said Cashell, the mother of three boys and a member of the Stone Creek Elementary PTA.

“This has made me feel like all I can do is be negative.”

PTA volunteer Dan Chmielewski said he believed Parham was sincere in wanting to raise Irvine’s profile with the governor by appearing in the commercial. Though located in one of the wealthiest areas of the state, the district receives only about $5,000 per student annually in state education money, far less than the state average of about $7,000.

“If Mike can get a seat at the table, I hope he can make a difference for Irvine and other underfunded districts in the state,” Chmielewski said. “But what can Mike offer the governor that will help Irvine? I don’t know how it will benefit us in the end.”

Despite the negative attention he has received, Parham said he would go on TV again for the governor.

  4 comments for “Fighting Cuts to Education That Will Cost Irvine $18.5 million

  1. February 7, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Blame Arnold & your majority democratic friends in the Lege Dan for spending us into oblivion.

  2. Dan Chmielewski
    February 7, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Prop 98 was passed by voters Allan; you are free to leave California at any time you feel you are paying too much in taxes.

  3. Urizen
    February 7, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    A leg rep for a middle school? Is this common in Irvine? I teach in SAUSD and our district doesnt even have a full time grant writer for the 58000 students! How does this leg rep thing get funded?

  4. Dan Chmielewski
    February 7, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Its volunteer; each school has their own.

Comments are closed.