Schools officials advocate for more state funding

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The Petaluma City Schools District, like most public school districts in the state, is facing a budget crisis it alone, can’t handle. Once again this year, the Petaluma district is reaching into its reserves to avoid making cuts that directly impact its classrooms.

“We have already made a couple of million dollars in cuts in administrative levels,” said Petaluma District Superintendent Gary Callahan. “Our reserves are getting down near the dangerous 5 percent level.” The state mandates that a district of Petaluma’s size maintain a 5 percent budget reserve.

In an effort to get help with the growing crisis, Callahan and school board members Ellen Webster and Sheri Chlebowski have appealed directly to the state for help. They recently met with state officials in Sacramento to advocate for increased state funding for education.

Board President Chlebowski pointed out that California has the sixth-largest economy in the world, “but education spending has continued to fall over the last three decades. We are 45th in pupil-teacher ratios when you compare California to the other 49 states,” she said. “Our students deserve better.”

“We are not alone,” Callahan said. “All 40 districts in Sonoma County are facing real cuts that impact student programs. It is important that we share our story and the concerns of Petaluma students, parents and educators. Enough is enough.”

The Petaluma contingent especially lobbied for Assembly Bill 2808, sponsored by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Los Angeles), that would move California toward the national average of $12,526 per-pupil funding.

Callahan said there are several other school funding bills currently being considered by assembly and senate subcommittees, and he and other Petaluma school officials will be evaluating those and returning to Sacramento on April 15.

“We were there to pose the question: ‘Are you pro education or are you not,’ ” Callahan said.

The superintendent pointed out that Petaluma and most other Sonoma County districts are especially hard hit because funding differs from district to district.

“It is complicated,” he said. “Districts receive more funding based on how many low-income students they have; how many English learners they have; and how many foster children are in the district.”

Petaluma and most other Sonoma County schools have a much smaller percentage of those students than a large city district like Los Angeles, which receives larger per-student funding than other districts.

“The state didn’t take into account all the expenses and fixed causes it takes to run a district,” Callahan said.”

He said the advocacy of the school districts is important, as is the involvement of members of the community.

“We need to watch education bills very closely and communicate to our representatives the importance of education,” he said.

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