Page One

Thousands to rally for schools

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Tuesday May 07, 2002

With the state facing a deficit as high as $22 billion, about 250 Berkeley residents are expected join over 1,500 Bay Area activists in Sacramento Wednesday, calling on the state legislature to spare the education budget. 

“It is important, in this budget climate, for Sacramento to understand how passionate the community is about funding for education,” said Berkeley Board of Education President Shirley Issel, who will make the trip. 

Issel said she is concerned that state cuts could force the district, which is already slated to chop $5.4 million next year, to make deeper reductions. 

“The idea of making further cuts is just unthinkable,” she said. 

Busloads of officials, activists and students from the Oakland, San Francisco, West Contra Costa and Albany school districts are expected to join in the Wednesday action. 

Governor Gray Davis has already proposed $487 million in cuts to K-12 education next year. With estimates of the state deficit growing, the governor will issue an eagerly-awaited budget revision on May 14. 


“The governor has always said his top priority is education, and we’re going to do what we can to protect it,” said Sandy Harrison, spokesman for the governor’s Department of Finance, declining to offer any specifics about the revision. 

Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, said she expects the governor to recommend further education cuts.  

Aroner said she will push for two “revenue enhancements” that would prevent the need for cuts. First, she called for a temporary increase in taxes on the wealthy, generating $1.5 billion. Second, Aroner said the state should rescind the vehicle license fee rebate during the budget crisis, yielding about $4 billion. 

Julie Chervin, a parent activist who has been coordinating the Berkeley lobbying effort, said many participants will endorse the revenue enhancements on Wednesday. The group will also call for an increase in per pupil spending, in the near future, from roughly $7,000 to $12,000. 

Chervin and other activists acknowledged that an increase in spending is not likely soon, given the budget deficit. But they said they are confident they can prevent cuts next year. 

“I think consumers always have an impact on the legislature and the governor,” Aroner said, arguing that a large teacher rally two years ago led to an increase in education funding. 

Berkeley residents will also push for legislation, authored by Aroner, that would forgive a $1.16 million fine the district owes the state and pour the money into fiscal consulting services and reform. 

The bill, which also provides targeted relief to the Emery Unified School District, has already passed the Assembly’s Education Committee and will be up before the Appropriations Committee Wednesday. 

Aroner’s legislative director Hans Hemann said he expects the Appropriations Committee to endorse the bill by May 23. 

Buses will leave from Berkeley High School and all three of the district’s middle schools Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. Organizers are asking for a $15 donation, but will not turn away people who can’t afford the fee. 

Berkeley board member John Selawsky, a chief organizer of the Wednesday event, said activists will have to keep up the pressure after the lobbying day. 

“We have to continue lobbying and not have it be the flavor of the month,” he said. “That’s the risk we face – you have a big event and then everyone goes home.”