Santa Clara County superintendent urges Sacramento to fix education funding

In what’s becoming a familiar sight at school board meetings across San Jose and the state, parents and teachers on Thursday crowded a Cambrian School District meeting to decry low teacher pay and an inability to retain quality teachers.

The outcry comes on the heels of several South Bay school districts eliminating or reclassifying droves of jobs. The dwindling funding for public schools in Santa Clara County has become so dire that Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools Mary Ann Dewan plans to call on Gov. Gavin Newsom and leading Sacramento lawmakers to reform the state’s public school funding formula.

“Funding shortfalls are putting all our districts at risk,” Dewan told San José Spotlight in an exclusive interview. “In Silicon Valley, we’ve had declining enrollment. We have four thousand fewer students in our county, but a thousand more that need special services.”

Dewan next week will send a letter calling on Newsom, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and California Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins to address budget shortfalls in the county’s schools.

The problem, officials say, goes beyond the board room and education leaders are pushing state legislators to reform the state’s per-pupil funding formula for public schools and support measures to help teachers live and work in their communities.

The meeting at Cambrian on Thursday night, where attendees chanted, wore bright colored t-shirts and demanded higher teacher salaries, is hardly unique to the district.

Dozens of employees protested staff changes and reductions at last week’s San Jose Unified board meeting. Berryessa teachers protested at the district’s May 7 meeting. Beyond Santa Clara County, Oakland and Los Angeles teachers have gone on strike and received national attention.

“The hardships we are facing are not unique. The problems are statewide,” Cambrian Superintendent Carrie Andrews told San José Spotlight. “In terms of it being a statewide problem, we’re bound by what we receive. The governor and legislators are not putting the money into public education that we need.”

After protests broke out at last week’s San Jose Unified School Board meeting, Board Vice President Teresa Castellanos shared the same message: “Go speak to your state legislators. We cannot add more money to the pot; we can only move it around.”

In an effort to fund a 3 percent raise, SJUSD trustees in April voted to eliminate and reclassify 37 job positions, ranging from administrative aides to secretaries. Two weeks later, the Alum Rock Union School District Board of Trustees voted to cut more than 50 jobs by summer, including all librarians.

“We need to continually voice this message. Anyone in public education wants to support teachers, but we rely on state funding,” said Andrews, the Cambrian superintendent.

Berryessa Union School District Superintendent Roxane Fuentes echoed that sentiment.

“With the governor’s recent budget proposal, we were hoping for changes in funding,” said Fuentes, referring to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed “California For All” state budget. “Our funding formula does not take into account the cost-of-living. In Silicon Valley, the cost of living puts extra pressure on our teachers and staff.”

Under the current formula, her district lost more than $350,000 in funding in the past year, mostly due to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which was passed in 2013 to get schools back to their 2008 funding levels.

With the LCFF, schools get a base grant per student, with an additional 20 percent for students who are low-income, English language learners or in foster care. Districts that have 55 percent of high-need students receive additional funding.

But falling under that 55 percent threshold is what cost Berryessa hundreds of thousands of dollars in much-needed funding.

That’s why Dewan is putting pressure on state leaders — a first for the county’s high-ranking education leader.

“We’re getting more and more concerned with local districts being institutions where funding is limited,” she said. “While the governor’s May revise is helpful, we’re still very much in need.”

“I’m grateful to have a governor who understands education,” Dewan added. “The funding for special education, early education, and CalSTRS is a start, but we’re still at woefully inadequate funding levels.”

While the current funding formula is based on the student population, the cost of raising a family has grown in the county. This has led to enrollment plummeting while costs continue to rise.

Dewan hopes this concerted effort to unite teachers, parents, teachers, staff, and administrators will convince the state legislators to better address school funding before turning in their budget to the governor on June 15.

By getting the attention of state officials, Dewan wants to send a powerful message.

“We have to work on this together and give the responsibility back to Sacramento where the decisions are made,” she said. “Let’s join together and make sure our elected representatives know that they can help us.”

Contact Elizabeth Barcelos at ebarcelossj@gmail.com or follow @ebarcelossj on Twitter.

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