With the passage of Proposition 30, California educators for now no longer feel that a 6-ton boulder is perched precariously above their heads.
"I'm happy! I've overjoyed!" said Ann Jones, chief business official of the San Jose Unified School District, Wednesday afternoon. Foothill-De Anza College District Chancellor Linda Thor sent out a thankful -- yet cautious -- email to staff and faculty at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. And San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Anne Campbell called herself a happy camper.
The success of Gov. Jerry Brown's quarter-cent sales tax and increased income tax on the wealthy means that districts like Redwood City won't have to renegotiate with their teachers to shave off several days from this school year. And San Jose Unified won't have to make up to $10 million in cuts next year, a sum so large it could mean lopping 10 days off the school year.
But in the longer term, schools still face a shortfall after absorbing three successive years of cuts.
However, had the measure not passed, Brown would have cut $6 billion, mostly from schools and colleges, to balance the state budget.
"If Proposition 30 had failed, it would have been a catastrophe," De Anza College President Brian Murphy said. "We would have been talking about dozens and dozens of layoffs midyear," he said. The Foothill-De Anza Community College District would have had to absorb $6.2 million more in cuts this school year, on top of a $5.7 million gap in its $183 million operating budget.
In preparation, the college had mapped out various scenarios, listing jobs to cut on its website.
For part-time instructor Janet Shaw, the job uncertainty was only a small part of her worries. Since Proposition 13 passed in 1978, cutbacks have been the norm. "I have the threat of not having a job every quarter," she said. "That's my lifestyle."
Her bigger fear was the deepening underfunding of education. "I was terrified we would have a generation of kids not getting an adequate education," she said.
As it is, in her 20 years of teaching humanities, dance and theater, she has seen a dramatic decline in the quality of students -- a direct result of budget cuts at lower levels, she said. "Community colleges are the niche that covers for the lack of education in K-12."
Her 10-year-old son is getting fewer days of school as the Cupertino Union School District has cut back. "When you cut instruction days for children, you don't make it up next year. That's just lost."
Proposition 30's passage won't restore programs to most area schools, partly because they're still budgeting conservatively and still are struggling with previous cuts. San Mateo Union High School District would have taken the estimated $3.6 million hit out of funds it would have carried over to next year, Deputy Superintendent Elizabeth McManus said.
The proposition also will save the district money, if Brown carries out his promise to reduce "deferrals" -- a strategy the state has used to balance its budget by delaying payments owed to schools. Getting money in time to pay expenses will mean less borrowing, and will save taxpayers money paid in interest, McManus said.
While educators bask in relief about Proposition 30's passage and are thankful for the efforts of campaigners and the support of voters, they realize they've won a battle but not yet the war.
East Side Union Superintendent Chris Funks said the district won't have to cut immediately, but will likely resort to furlough days next year.
For the Redwood City District, "Proposition 30 will not solve all of our financial challenges, but it will prevent further erosion and allow us to focus on student learning rather than budget cutting," Deputy Superintendent John Baker said.
Or, as Murphy of De Anza said, "We're not walking off a cliff yet. But hey, there's still a cliff."
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.