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GUEST OPINION: What's the best next step for Santa Rosa schools?

Published: Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 5:42 p.m.

As part of a discussion item at a recent meeting, the Santa Rosa Board of Education decided to look into the desirability and feasibility of a local bond and/or parcel tax.

I support moving ahead with this discussion as the next step in rebuilding our school system. Those who have followed California's arcane and volatile school finance system are keenly aware of how the Great Recession and the inaction of the state to reform school finance have devastated our schools. It is important that the general public understand the magnitude of this as well.

A downward spiral in resources pushed California's once world-class public education system down to one of the most resource-starved in the nation. California citizens showed how much they value public education by passing Proposition 30. However, Proposition 30 neither makes up for revenue lost over the past several years, nor does it hold the promise of additional funding to make the system whole again. Gov. Jerry Brown's education finance “reform” is a way to distribute funds differently, but at this point there still is no formula for a stable and adequate funding system for our schools. Santa Rosa City Schools might actually be looking at less state revenue.

Schools during these dire times for the most have remained open. What we must acknowledge now is that there have been huge tradeoffs over the past several years including fewer instructional days, larger class sizes, less money for instructional materials and technology, a loss of programs and support personnel (such as counselors, librarians and psychologists) as well as losses in regular certificated and classified positions and a postponing of maintenance.

What hasn't changed is an increasingly rapid movement toward a global economy driven by technological change and the integration of world businesses. State and federal education officials are aware of this and that is why necessary, and long overdue changes to public education are looming on the horizon.

We want and need to have education reinvent itself for the future. Focusing on improving America's infrastructure, including education, is the rhetoric now coming out of Washington. However, we know the public will need to push our state and federal officials to provide the financial support to meet stated goals.

We are fortunate to live in a community that places a high value on education. Parent organizations, boosters, Schools Plus, school foundations and other groups as well as individuals who donate time and money have helped maintain sports and other enrichment programs and have supplemented some regular school programs as well. These efforts are greatly appreciated and vital to our schools, but we must also look elsewhere to begin the rebuilding of our schools for the 21st century.

While I am hopeful that the citizens of California will push politicians to make the corrections necessary to get education back on track, we must not wait to take action. Our schools have too many immediate needs.

Some of our needs can be met through limited local funding increases via a bond or parcel tax. Priorities and the extent of what we can afford are to be determined.

I welcome the ensuing community discussions knowing that we all care deeply about the future of our children and that the money raised through a local measure could not be for a more important purpose.

Many school districts throughout the state have recently passed local revenue measures, and many more are poised to do the same. The message to the state and federal governments is that we are serious about the future of our children — you should be also.

Ron Kristof is a member of the Santa Rosa school board.

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