Berkeley PTAs Unite Against State Budget Cuts

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday April 01, 2008

More than 100 PTA members from the Berkeley public schools discussed ways to counter Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed $4.6 billion state education budget cuts at a Berkeley High School Parent Teacher and Student Association (PTSA) meeting last week. 

The California PTA is scheduled to rally against the proposed cuts on April 24 in Sacramento, followed by visits to state legislators. 

PTSA President Mark van Kriekan encouraged PTA members to partner with educators, administrators, school board officials, and business and union leaders to organize the trips. 

The state PTA is also organizing local rallies throughout the state on April 25 and asking community members to take part in “Flunk the Budget Fridays” between now and the end of the month. 

“The way it’s coming out in the press is not hitting home with a lot of parents,” van Kriekan said. 

“The effect on every school district in the state, including Berkeley, will be devastating. California currently ranks 46th in the country in education spending and is $1,900 below the national average in per student funding. The governor is proposing to put us another $800 below the national average. Parents statewide will have to become active immediately if we are going to protect our children's education and prevent these cuts from happening.” 

Parents also discussed the possibility of putting an initiative on the November ballot to force the state to either make California 25th in per student funding or to mandate a change in how the state budget gets passed—from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority.  

“There's no better place to start this effort than here in Berkeley, but we cannot do this without your participation,” said state assembly member Loni Hancock, who is protesting the proposed cuts. 

Van Kriekan’s suggestion to create a “reach out for mediocrity campaign” to help the state become 25th in per student funding met with loud applause. 

“We need to look at this as an opportunity to defend public education,” said Berkeley PTA Council President Cathryn Bruno, who is trying to get 100 people to lobby in support of saving Prop. 98 outside Hancock’s office in El Cerrito on April 25. 

“We need to raise revenue,” she said. “New York is going after Amazon.com to raise sales taxes—we need to do something similar.” 

Berkeley Federation of Teachers Cathy Campbell emphasized that the state budget problem was not because of a spending crisis. 

“It’s because of a revenue crisis,” she said. 

Berkeley Unified sent out 55 pink slips to teachers and counselors two weeks ago. Final layoff notices are expected to go out on May 15. 

“We are the richest state in the richest country in the world. We should be raising revenue,” Campbell said. 

According to state superintendent Sheila Jordan, 15 of the 18 school districts in Alameda County will be unable to submit a balanced budget if the cuts occur. 

Although Berkeley Unified is one of the three school districts which will be able to present a balanced budget, the district is facing cuts of up to $3.5 million. 

“This is going to be the fight of our lives,” said Hancock. “I hope everybody realizes that.” 

For more information on the rallies e-mail Cathryn Bruno, Berkeley PTA Council President, at jefcat1991@sbcglobal.net 

or visit the California State PTA at www.capta.org.