Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hunger Strikers demand funds for schools

SACRAMENTO — Two Oxnard School District trustees, one day after having ended a weeklong fast to call attention to education funding cuts in California, brought their protest to the Capitol on Tuesday.

Trustees Denis O’Leary and Ana Del Rio-Barba were praised by Ventura County Assembly members Pedro Nava and Julia Brownley at a brief news conference on the Capitol steps before they delivered petitions bearing more than 1,000 signatures of Oxnard residents to the office of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Although the fast, during which the trustees and six others consumed nothing but liquids and spent their days peacefully protesting in Plaza Park, drew much attention and publicity, O’Leary said it was secondary to the cause they sought to highlight.

“What’s primary is that we’re taking the word of the people and we’re coming to Sacramento and saying, ‘Hey, guys, I had always heard that education was your No. 1 priority, but education took 60 percent of the budget cuts. It’s time you stood behind education.’ ”

Among those joining the trustees was Oxnard PTA Council President Sylvia Cates, who said parents across the state are just now beginning to understand the seriousness of the budget-cutting actions taken by lawmakers over the past year.

When her daughter returned to classes at Haydock Intermediate School last week, Cates said, the evidence was plain: “There were tons of children in each classroom, and they were lacking for desks.”

Debbie Look, legislative director for the California State PTA, said similar experiences are happening across the state with the beginning of the new school year.

“When you hear about ‘billions of dollars’ being cut, it’s very much an abstract concept,” Look said. “When it starts impacting your community schools, it’s not an abstract concept. We’re going to see parents saying, ‘This is enough!’ ”

Brownley, chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, said the contrast between what the Legislature has done with education funding and prison funding is stark.

“We can cut $6 billion from schools, but we can’t seem to figure out how to cut $1.2 billion from prisons,” she said. “We bus our convicts to our prisons, but we cannot afford to bus our children to their schools. We have lost our way in California. We are not investing, we are foreclosing.”

O’Leary and Del Rio-Barba displayed charts showing that Proposition 98 “revenue limit” funding — the basic state aid school districts receive for each child attending classes — for Oxnard’s elementary and junior high schools dropped from $5,530 per student in 2007-08 to $4,976 this school year.

Had school funding been appropriated under the existing statutory formula, the figure this year would have been $6,095 — meaning that budget cuts over the past two years have shortchanged Oxnard schools by $1,119 per student.

Nava urged the delegation from Oxnard to support his proposal to implement an oil severance tax in California to help restore some of the education cutbacks.

“It is clearly time to talk about revenues,” he said. “If Alaska can have a severance tax, if Texas can have a severance, if all the other oil-producing states can have a severance tax, why can’t California?”

He said he will push the proposal during an upcoming special session to discuss changes to the state’s tax system. A 10 percent severance tax on oil extracted from California wells would raise an estimated $1.5 billion a year, he said.

O’Leary said he lost 12 pounds during the seven-day fast during which he consumed only pomegranate juice, sports drinks, water and tea.
“Yes, I was nervous,” he said. “I didn’t think that I could make it.”
Oxnard hunger strikers' petitions reach Capitol
By Timm Herdt
Ventura County Star
August 25, 2009
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