MARTINEZ -- The five candidates for Martinez school board agree that if both statewide tax measures on the November ballot fail, the district will be hard-pressed to find places to cut costs.
Last week, Dena Betti, Denise Elsken, John Fuller, Kathi McLaughlin and Ron Skrehot participated in a forum moderated by Contra Costa Times Political Editor Lisa Vorderbrueggen.
The forum will air at 12:30 p.m. Sundays on Comcast channel 28 beginning Sept. 30, and at 10 p.m. Mondays beginning Oct. 1. It also will be available online at www.ContraCostaTimes.com/elections.
Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's tax measure, would raise the marginal income tax rate on annual earnings over $250,000 for seven years and increase the sales tax by a quarter cent for four years. Eighty-nine percent of the revenue is earmarked for K-12 schools and 11 percent would go to community colleges.
Prop. 38 would raise the marginal income tax on all but the poorest Californians for 12 years. For the first four years, 60 percent of the tax revenue would go to K-12 education, 30 percent to repaying state debt and 10 percent to early childhood education programs. In the fifth year, the share of revenue going to the schools increases to 85 percent.
Betti, a real estate appraiser whose three daughters attend Martinez schools, said she's wary of both measures because neither includes a guarantee that the money will be spent on education.
"I just don't trust that that money is going to reach us," Betti said.
Lamenting several years of budget cuts, Elsken, a 13-year incumbent, said Prop. 30 is better for the school district.
"If Prop. 30 doesn't pass, there will be dire consequences for our kids," said Elsken, noting that the school year could be cut by 15 days.
Fuller, who has been on the board for five years, said school board candidates should support both propositions. McLaughlin, a 12-year incumbent, said she supports Prop. 30. Skrehot, who left the school board in 2010 after two terms, chided the governor and state legislators for what he described as a failure to prioritize education funding.
Martinez residents also will vote on Measure C, a five-year extension of the $50 annual parcel tax that generates about $525,000 per year. The school district has used the money to keep music instruction and P.E. specialists in the elementary schools, counselors at the two secondary schools, library services and other programs.
If the governor's initiative fails, Martinez faces an ongoing funding cut of nearly $1.8 million, according to Andi Stubbs, chief business official for the district. Even if voters approve the governor's tax hike, Stubbs is projecting three years of deficit spending that will chip away at the school district's $8 million reserve fund.
If voters reject the statewide tax increase and the district does not secure new funding by extending the parcel tax or from some other source, Martinez may be unable to pay its bills by the 2018-2019 school year.
Asked what they would cut if the state propositions fail, the candidates struggled to come up with an answer.
Elsken said the district already increased class sizes in the early grades, cut staff time and runs a lean central office.
Skrehot pointed out that in the past the district received aid from the city and used funds for the adult school program.
McLaughlin noted that the board will have little flexibility since the budget cut would come midway through the school year, but she said furlough days might be a possibility.
She also agreed with Betti and Fuller that the board should enlist parents and staff members in making those decisions.
"I'm not sure where we could cut. I would want to hear from everybody in our school community," McLaughlin said.
In their closing statements, the candidates touted their experience and commitment to public education.
Skrehot said he would work for a more cohesive, transparent and open board. "It's a great way to serve this community."
During his tenure, Fuller said test scores are up and the board has made infrastructure improvements. He said his decisions are guided by the question, "Is it good for the kids?"
As a PTA president, Betti said it's important to know what's going on in the classroom to understand how budget cuts would affect teachers and students.
McLaughlin, who highlighted the additional education-related work she has done, including four terms as a delegate to the California School Boards Association, said kids, mental health and education are her passion.
Elsken said Martinez needs experienced and knowledgeable board members to guide the district through these uncertain times. While she may not always agree with the staff or other board members, Elsken said she does her homework and does what is best for students and works best for the staff.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.