Irvine’s SOS (Save Our Schools) Initiative Close to Getting Needed Signatures; PTA Support is Pitiful

Irvine council member Larry Agran is spearheading an iniative, the SoS Initiative for Save Our Schools, for the November election that would direct about $1.5 million to cash poor schools in Irvine served by IUSD and even TUSD without raising taxes a dime.  So if you’re heading to one of the graduation ceremonies in town this weekend, don’t be surprised to see some signature gatherers seeking an influx of a lot of people available to sign in a short amount of time to place the measure on the ballot.  Irvine aleready provides about $6 million to local schools directly and via in-kind contributions, and with IUSD projecting large budget shortfalls that seem to never end, the move by the city to give another $1.5 million out of the general fund without raising taxes should be welcome news.

Except that it’s not.

My friends in local PTAs are taking a, very curious, hands off approach to SoS because the funds do come with strings attached.  This lack of enthusiam is somewhat troubling to me and runs counter to the legislative action work done to lobby state lawmakers into shorting up Irvine’s well under state average budget figures.

Here’s some detail on what the Initiative does:

The Support Our Schools initiative is proposed for the November 2012 ballot.  Once passed by voters, the initiative will:

  • Allocate $2.5 million annually to the Irvine Educational Partnership Fund to support academic performance for K-12 Irvine students served by the Irvine and Tustin Unified School Districts from 2013 through 2016
  • Allocate $1.5 million annually from 2013 to 2016 to support programs designed to reduce class size – these funds are designed to be matched by corporations and nonprofit organizations
  • Provide funding for classroom teachers, instructional aides, school nurses, school safety officers, classroom supplies and sports facilities

Under this initiative, school funds are allocated from the City General Fund with no new taxes.

“Irvine public schools consistently rank among the finest in the nation based on their outstanding educational environment and commitment to success,” said Larry Agran, Chair of the Support Our Schools initiative.  “State budget cuts are reducing the number of classroom teachers and instruction days, increasing class sizes, and slashing budgets for school health programs and school security.  S.O.S. is the international code for distress…our schools are facing an emergency and we must act now to Support Our Schools…right here in Irvine.” 

As a result of the continuing state budget crisis, the Irvine and Tustin Unified School Districts have made more than $50 million in budget reductions since April 2009, resulting in deep cutbacks in their annual operating budgets.

According to a report recently issued by the Irvine Unified School District, deeper cuts are on the horizon. Next year, K-12 schools could be hit with $4.8 billion “trigger cuts” if Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed tax hikes do not gain voter approval in the November election. That comes out to a loss of about $10.4 million for IUSD, John Fogarty, assistant superintendent of business services, said during a Board of Education study session. In addition to proposed cuts to home-to-school and special education transportation, the district would lose $11.5 million for 2012-2013.  These severe budget cuts would result in an ongoing cut of about $370 per student.

In 2010, the Irvine voters approved a school support initiative for fiscal years 2010 through 2014 by a margin of 78.2% to 21.8%.  This new initiative would more than double the amount of money contributed annually by the city to Irvine schools and extend the commitment through 2016 without raising taxes.

According to The US Census Bureau, California ranks 35th in the nation in per pupil spending. From the story in the Sacramento Bee:

Thus, the Census Bureau tagged California’s $58.9 billion in 2009-10 “current spending” at $9,375 per pupil, which was $1,240 less than the national average of $10,675 and placed it 35th . The District of Columbia was highest at $18,667, followed by New York, Wyoming, New Jersey and Connecticut. Utah was lowest at $6,064.

Total California spending, including $7.2 billion in capital outlay and ancillary costs, was pegged at $68.1 billion.

In terms of revenue from all sources, California’s $10,581 per pupil was 40th in the nation. Its revenue, some $65 billion, was calculated at 4.25 percent of personal income, while its spending, 3.77 percent of personal income, was 42nd. In relation to personal income, Alaska was tops in both revenue and spending.

The state government supplied $34.2 billion of school revenues in 2009-10, or 52.6 percent, which was higher than the national average of 43.5 percent. The federal government’s 15 percent was also higher than the national average of 12.5 percent, while local source revenues at 32.5 percent were below the national average of 44 percent, reflecting Proposition 13′s limits on local property taxes.

IUSD tells us it spends about $6,639 per pupil placing a district that ranks among the top districts in the state in terms of academic performance near the bottom when it comes to funding. With IUSD is facing a shortfall of more than $10 million if Governor Brown’s tax plan fails at the ballot and the district only has $15 million in the bank to cover reserves.  TUSD is involved in an expensive lawsuit with the City of Tustin which is diverting funds from the classroom to the courtroom.
Now in a perfect world, IUSD would get a check from the city with no restrictions on how it’s spent.  But by earmking dollars to cover things like janitors, school nurses, athletic fields and others, the city is allowing the district to direct more education dollars from the state back to the classroom.
While California lags behind the nation in education spending, one area where the state was above average was administrative pay.  That’s why I’m fine with the city directing funds to janitors and school nurses instead of pumping up an administrator’s pay.
One possible reason for tepid PTA support is a persistent rumor that Council member Jeff Lalloway and Irvine Mayoral candidate Steven Choi will work on a competiting measure.  But there seems to be no way to gatehr the necessary signatures in time to do this.  A short cut would be a 3-2 vote by the city council.  Mayor Sukhee Kang would have to vote with Republicans to do this and it would be a mistake to do so.  Kang is running for Congress and siding with Republicans would hurt him among Democrats, DTS and independent voters who hold education in high regard. In 2010, Lalloway pandered to parents saying he wanted to give $5 million to IUSD schools with no strings attached and that’s clearly not going to happen.  The funds provided to schools via SOS come with accountability attached and represent that biggest financial committment from a city to local schools in OC history (please prove me wrong).
As for our PTAs, the money generated by SoS is far more than any bake sale, wrapping paper sale, or local school fundraiser could possibly achieve.  It’s not unlike a parent giving a college student money for tuition, room and board, books and fees, when the student would rather blow it on beer and pizza.  If local PTAs can’t get behind this measure, they should simply abandon all legislative action efforts period because the initiative itself is proof legisative action did work.

  8 comments for “Irvine’s SOS (Save Our Schools) Initiative Close to Getting Needed Signatures; PTA Support is Pitiful

  1. just asking?
    June 22, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Dan, don’t know much about this initiative, but local PTA’s and PTSO’s have pretty strict rules and penalties for getting involved in politics. I am surprised that individuals are not more supportive since they support their respective schools to such a great extent. Hope it works out, Irvine does schools and safety better than most…

  2. Ltpar
    June 22, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Come on Dan, here you are once again spinning the facts in favor of your favorite group of political misfits, the Agranistas.

    You know as well as I do that this Inititative has nothing to do with the schools or kids. If the Agranistas want to ladle more City General Fund money to the schools, they can do so by a simple vote of the Council. Since the Agranistas have a controlling interest on the Council and add to the mix with pseudo-conservatives Lalloway and Choi afraid of loosing a few votes, there would be a 5-0 vote.

    As we know the Initiative is nothing more than an scam for the Agranistas to legally launder their big money contributions for the upcming Council election in November. With no contribution limits, the Initiative will be funded by the holders of the “no bid” contracts at the Great Park and the pay to play people doing business with the City of Irvine. Add to that the Teachers Unions and as in past years the Agranistas will have unlimited campaign funds to overwhelm their opponents. Bottom line Dan is let’s not kid ourselves about who this Inititative benefits the most, with it clearly being the Agranista Political Machine. Yep, it’s just another day in Paradise?

  3. June 22, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Actually they cannot gather signatures on any school facility as this would be illegal.

    • June 22, 2012 at 4:49 pm

      Most of Irvine’s high schools hold their graduations at UCI…and many schools are connected to city parks whcih are city property whch make it pretty easy to collect signatures. The signature gatherers are well trained.

  4. June 22, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Pat -
    Since I have actually helped with the signature gathering process and attended meetings of those pushing for this ballot initiative, I can tell you with certainty you are incorrect. Education support is bipartisan or nonpartisan. Good schools are the foundation of our community and are a principle reason people move here.

    • Ltpar
      June 23, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Dan, I agree on your good schools assumption. However, the point of my comment was not the schools, it was about the use of the process by the Agranistas to promote their candidates.

      Now, please tell me with a straight face, you haven’t seen that happening every election cycle with one meaningless Inititative or another. As the campaign picks up, big money starts rolling in and mailers start going out, we will see who was telling the truth and who was spinning the facts?

  5. Petra Schaefer
    July 4, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Hi Dan, my name is Petra Schaefer and I am the Irvine Council PTA president. I have also been out of the country for the last 3 weeks but have been picking up email. A friend mentioned your blog and now I have the wifi power to read it on the plane! Why don’t you contact me at the email and we can arrange a time for me to correct the inaccuracies in your comments regarding PTA support for the SOS initiative and clarify what PTA is doing! I am looking forward to correcting your perceptions! Thanks so much!

    • July 4, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      Thanks for reading the blog but there are no inaccuracies in my comments. I know first hand instructions passed down to individual PTAs about their inaction on SOS. If you have had a sudden change of heart, it’s because the measure has 7000 more signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. I reserve the right to call bullshit when I hear it

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