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PTA Leaders Wonder Where Perata Stands By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday June 14, 2005

With a proposed tax increase on wealthy Californians no longer in play and a comprehensive education plan by legislative Democrats yet to be released, education leaders are divided on what concrete commitments they actually have from State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata on education funding. 

“We got some face time for Berkeley educators with the state senator, which is always good,” incoming Berkeley PTA Council President Wanda Stewart said of a meeting earlier this month between Perata, and representatives of the Berkeley and state PTA organizations. “But the specific education legislation is still to be determined. We all agreed to work together for educational funding in a general way. It was real general stuff.” 

In an e-mail released following the Perata-PTA meeting, Berkeley PTA Council Legislation Committee Chair Cynthia Papermaster said that “Sen. Perata will let [the California State PTA Legislation Chair] know by Friday what the proposed plan is. ... We will have a very short period in which to lobby legislators, especially those who are reluctant to be associated with a tax hike.” 

Papermaster continued, “Alternatively, the plan may be to put an initiative on the November special election to ask the voters to approve the increased education funding.” 

At the end of the meeting, Perata (D-Oakland) signed the California PTA “Make California Schools Great Again” agenda which included a general call to ensure public education is the “number one budget priority” in California, preservation of Proposition 98, and support for a plan to put California schools among the top ten in the nation by 2015. 

Proposition 98 is the 1996 California voter-approved California Constitutional amendment that was supposed to guarantee minimum funding for the state’s public schools. Last year, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made what he called “temporary cuts” to those education funding guarantees. The governor is now proposing to make some of those cuts permanent. 

While Stewart called the goals of the proposed California PTA agenda “good,” the added that it was vague enough that “anybody could have signed it.”  

Perata told meeting participants that his office would release a “Make California Schools Great Again” legislative plan by the end of next week, and was working on plans to put a $2 billion to $3 billion education tax on this November’s special education ballot targeted specifically towards Californians with incomes over $250,000. 

Both the legislative plan and the proposed tax increase ballot measure were in response to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cutbacks in the state’s education budget. 

But a report in the Matier and Ross column in the San Francisco Chronicle said this week that at the request of the state’s “education lobby,” the proposed tax-the-wealthy measure will not go on the November ballot. In addition, the “Make California Schools Great Again” plan is a week late, and no details of the proposal have yet been released. 

Local education leaders believe that the “Make California Schools Great Again” plan at least initially included the proposed ballot tax measure. 

Incoming Berkeley PTA Council President Stewart said that Perata told the group that “Republicans were not expected to support the tax increase on the wealthy proposal, and Democrats did not want to hold up passage of the state budget by pushing for it.” 

Stewart added that Perata reported that “Arnold said we could put it on the ballot.” 

A spokesperson for the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), the AFL-CIO affiliated state teachers union, said that his organization had asked Democratic leaders to pull the wealth-tax proposal out of this year’s budget, but only for “pragmatic reasons.” 

CFT “has always supported a fair and progressive tax policy,” CFT Communications Director Fred Glass said in a telephone interview, adding that Republican governors Pete Wilson and Ronald Reagan “both supported temporary tax increases for the rich during economic crises in the state.” 

Glass said that while his organization was in favor of a “tax on upper income Californians to fund the gap between what Gov. Schwarzenegger promised for education and what he actually put in the budget ... we weren’t going to get it passed, and that would have pushed the budget past the deadline.” 

Representatives of the 335,000 member California Teachers Association—the rival organization to the CFT—could not be reached for comment for this story, but in the past they have been critical of State Sen. Perata’s recent positions on public education funding. 

After Perata said last February that Prop. 98’s automatic funding increases was hurting other important parts of the state budget, calling it an “escalator without a pause,” the CTA sent mailers into the senator’s East Bay district stating that “In siding with Governor Schwarzenegger, Don Perata is breaking his promise to support funding for local public schools.” 

In addition, the organization put up posters on fences and telephone polls throughout the district stating “Shame On You Senator Perata. Stop Caving In To Governor Schwarzenegger And Protect Public School Funding!” 

In response, Perata sent out a letter to constituents late last month saying that while “I have always fought for increased educational funding ... California faces a five billion dollar budget shortfall. Under Proposition 98, regardless of our revenues, 40 percent of our state’s budget goes to education. ... Regrettably, Proposition 98 pits education against services for the blind, disabled and elderly. ... Currently, we are in the untenable position of choosing between providing the bare necessities to the sick and opportunity for our young.” 

That would seem to indicate that Perata still has concerns about Prop 98. But the representative of the CFT—which did not have a hand in the CTA posters, saying “we favored a more subtle approach”—said his organization believes that Perata is now a supporter once more of Proposition 98. 

While “initially it was true” that Perata wanted to cut the Prop. 98 guarantees, CFT’s Glass said, “We think he has moved off of that position. He’s now clear that Prop 98 is important, and he’s staunchly defending it.”›