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School activists go to Capitol Berkeley educators and supporters stake claim to state budget

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Thursday May 09, 2002

One hundred Berkeley parents, students and school officials joined 1,000 Bay Area activists at the State Capitol Wednesday calling on Governor Gray Davis and the state legislature, who face a deficit as high as $22 billion, to avoid education cuts. 

“We’re here to remind our state representatives that we won’t tolerate this and it’s unacceptable,” said Board of Education member John Selawsky, discussing the potential for cuts. “We have to fund our public schools.” 

In January, Davis proposed a small increase in K-12 education funding for next year. But the governor will release a budget revision May 14 that will serve as a new blueprint for the legislature. With estimates of the state’s deficit growing, activists fear he will recommend education cuts.  

Hilary McLean, Davis’s chief deputy press secretary, played down the activists’ concerns. 

“(Davis) has pledged on numerous occasions that he is going to do his best to protect the investments we’ve made in education,” she said.  

There is talk in Sacramento that the governor may ask the legislature to suspend Proposition 98, which provides a baseline of funding for the public schools, in an effort to make cuts. Again, McLean played down the idea. 

“It’s certainly something the governor doesn’t want to see happen,” she said. 

Activists had strong words for Davis and the legislature in speeches from the Capitol steps. Barry Fike, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, mocked the notion of a “shortage” of state funds. 

“This is the sixth largest economy in the world,” Fike said. “What we do have is a shortage of wisdom in how to distribute the wealth.” 

But McLean said activists, including dozens of students, should recognize everything Davis has done to fund education since he took office. 

“Hopefully these are students who are up on their history and up on their math,” McLean said, noting that education spending has increased by 34 percent under the Davis Administration. 

Berkeley activists had appointments with staff members of several state legislators. In meetings throughout the day, Berkeley residents called on representatives to raise taxes on the wealthiest two percent to help close the deficit, avoid education cuts and, in the long run, increase per pupil spending from roughly $7,000 to $12,000 per year. 

Staff members were generally receptive, activists said, but in some cases were reluctant to endorse tax increases. McLean said the governor does not want to raise taxes this year. 

State Assemblywoman Dion Aroner has endorsed a temporary tax increase on the wealthiest 2 percent and cancellation of the vehicle license fee rebate. But these measures and other “revenue enhancements” would raise $7 to $8 billion, Hemann said, and would only partially offset cuts – in education and everywhere. 

“A lot of things are on the table,” Hemann said. “We’re attempting to get our hands around a huge deficit.” 

The rally drew activists from Oakland, San Francisco, Albany and Contra Costa, tied together in a loose coalition called The Coalition to Pay Schools Now and Fix School Funding. Some thought the rally was a bit chaotic. 

“It wasn’t necessarily as organized as it should have been,” said Tiffanie Hester, a senior at Berkeley High School who made the trip to Sacramento. 

But organizers said they got their message across. 

“It was a good start,” said Derick Miller, president of Berkeley’s PTA Council and candidate for school board. Miller said the challenge will be to build long-lasting relationships with legislators. 

Selawsky said he hopes the coalition will continue to make lobbying trips to the Capitol, and build a regional movement for education funding. 

“That’s our job right now,” he said.