Irvine’s Educational Budget Crisis Needs Real Solutions and Not Gimmicks That Smack of Pandering

I recently sat down with my neighbors to talk about problems with school funding issues facing IUSD schools.  IUSD is traditionally one of the best performing school districts in the state yet, due to the inaction of our Republican state and federal representatives, we remain among the lowest funded districts in the state and in the county. 

From the district, the news for the coming school year is grim.  This from the district’s website.

IUSD was facing a deficit of approximately $20 million for 2010-11 as a result of the state’s budget crisis, which has already stripped California’s schools of $17 billion over the last two years. The governor’s latest proposal calls for another $2.5 billion worth of cuts for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

To bridge the district’s gap between revenue and expenditures, school board members voted to approve a number of measures, including four district-wide furlough days for 2009-10 and eight for 2010-11; increased class-sizes in grades one through three and nine; reductions at the District Office level; the reallocation of categorical dollars from programs that are now flexible as a result of recent legislation; as well as the use of onetime dollars.

The parents met to discuss strategy for a meeting with Mayor Kang about how the city can be more helpful.  Mayor Kang has some ideas that the parent group I was with liked, but of course, the details are incomplete. With support of the full city council for Mayor Kang’s ideas, I’m sure there’s more help on the way for our city’s school children.

What my parents group did learn is that the City of Irvine, through it’s progressive leadership, already provides the district with nearly $4.6 million in direct and indirect aide by funidng things like the DARE Program, crossing guards, security, and joint use on parks and recreation services to name a few things.  This funding far exceeds any aid paid by any other city to its local school district and the City of Irvine does provide some funding to schools located in Irvine that were part of the Tustin Unified School District.

And while that’s fine, parents who care about quality schools in Irvine cross political boundries. Our group included moderates, conservatives and lefties like me.  We all want the same thing.  No cuts in programs, smaller class sizes and more local control over how education dollars are spent.  It makes no sense to pour millions into building a new school if you can’t hire great teachers to teach kids or if you furlough those teachers to cut costs.  You can’t get addition from subtraction. 

Prompting this meeting was a recent announcement by city council candidate Jeff Lalloway that the City of Irvine should give IUSD a $5 million one time grant, “to prevent the increase in class size for grades 1-3 and 9th grade and fund the kindergarten through 6th grade art program.”

Lalloway said “I know the Irvine taxpayers and residents would support such a contribution. For far too long, the City Council and the Irvine Unified School Board have had a contentious relationship. The city council and the school board must work together in a new partnership. As the Vice Chairman of the Finance Commission, I have witnessed numerous examples of wasteful city spending. For example, this year, the city has budgeted over $1.8 million for the controversial iShuttle program—a program that benefits around 75 riders per week, mostly non-residents of Irvine. That money would be better spent on our kids.”

This is pandering for votes and as a Vice Chairman of the Finance Commission, Lalloway should know better.  IUSD gets its funding from the state based on complicated formulas that never seem to change no matter that Irvine is no longer the “rural community” it was in 1971.  Lalloway also should know that Great Park funds and the City’s budget are two different things.  This one time grant fails to solve the systemic problems with funding education.  Lalloway wants to city to hand over $5 million? They just about already do to the tune of $4.6 million. Why not ask the city for the whole $22 million shortfall Mr. Lalloway? And quite frankly, if you want the city and school board ot get along better, there are a couple of trustees who could go (quit, resign, retire, whatever) that would improve this situation immediately.  Frankly, I think the school district could show a little more grattitude to the city council for the $4.6 million that city provides the district with annually.

Better still, perhaps Mr. Lalloway could work with Irvine parents on changing the rules for passing a parcel tax that could almost immediately provide the sort of long term fiscal stability the district needs to maintain quality schools (which maintain high property values, which attract great companies with good paying jobs to the safest big city in the America)?

Here’s where we can start.

We need to relax rules by which we can pass local parcel taxes.  Currently, you need a supermajority (two-thirds) to pass new taxes in California.  Passing local parcel taxes is one way to ensure a reliable source of local funds for schools.  The Local Control of Local Classrooms Funding Act will lower the passage rate to 55 percent, making it easier for communities to invest in their local schools.  In 1999, the district put a ballot for a $95 per parcel tax on the ballot and while it had broad community support, the vote failed to get 66.7 percent.  Of 64,000 registered voters, only 27.5 percent of the voters turned out for the election and the measure garnered 62.7 percent of the vote for a parcel tax.  By lowering the bar to 55 percent, coupled with the significant growth in the city’s population (with more parcels to collect from), I believe a parcel tax would pass easily.  I’d like to see it at $150 per parcel.  That’s $12.50 a month or about 41.1 cents a day. 

Now passing a parcel tax won’t solve the entire shortfall. There’s work to be done in the state assembly and in the state senate that hasn’t been done. As someone who’s sat in PTA meetings with State Rep. Chuck deVore and with a staffer from then Senator Dick Ackerman, our elected leaders seem more interested in whining about the teacher’s unions than in affecting real change to bring our state funding up from below average to average. 

But what a parcel tax does is provide a reliable source of new revenues that are widely supported by the majority of Irvine families who already pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars to IPSF and various PTA fundraisers to support a schools.  This amounts to a tax on families who care about quality schools.  I’ve written here before, I’m all for raising my state taxes as long as I know my local school district is getting the money.  And when my children are done with IUSD schools, I know the quality school district here is helping to maintain my property values.

But here’s the rub.  Mr. Lalloway is not likely to support anything that calls for new taxes.  As we reported last fall, his political affilitations include: “Rebuild the (Republican) Party, the Lincoln Club, SoCal Republican Coalition, California Republican Assembly, The Great California Tax Revolt of 2009, Darell Steinberg and Karen Bass Must Resign, Red County, and the OC Young Republicans. But most notably, Mr. Lalloway is a member of the OC Tea Party. He feels we’re taxed enough already and, if he’s making more than $250,000 a year, he is paying more in taxes but wouldn’t you love to have that problem?

Mr, Lalloway has young children in IUSD schools.  I have a high school senior and have been through the battle before.  Welcome to the party Mr. Lalloway. 

And while Mr. Lalloway and I share a love of good Italian food (Pina’s Bistro, First Street, Tustin..tell them Dan Chmielewski sent you), perhaps he’ll join me in working towards passing a new parcel tax to provide a systemic solution to school funding that’s fiscally prudent.

  2 comments for “Irvine’s Educational Budget Crisis Needs Real Solutions and Not Gimmicks That Smack of Pandering

  1. Phil
    April 13, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Why can’t we get Irvine redistricted from rural to something else? Isn’t there a suburban or urban category whereby we can get more funds?

  2. Dan Chmielewski
    April 13, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Phil — It’s impossible to do since the Irvine Company holds so much property here. Ask Chuck DeVore what he’s done here. The answer is nothing.

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