LOCAL SPIN: Capital Conundrum
Surprise: Some Silicon Valley rich guys oppose Prop. 30.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Here is what will happen on Nov. 7, the day after the election, if voters haven’t passed Prop. 30, the constitutional amendment backed by Gov. Jerry Brown and better known as the Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act.
Because the state budget has been tied to the passage of Prop. 30, a series of what are known as “trigger cuts” will begin. K-12 schools and community colleges will take a $5.3 billion hit. The CSU system will have to cut $250 million, as will the UC system. The Department of Developmental Services has to ax $50 million. Police stand to lose $20 million in grants. The Department of Fish and Game and Parks and Recreation will lose $4 million and $2 million, respectively. CalFire will have to cut $10 million.
CSU Monterey Bay Interim President Eduardo Ochoa says failure to pass it will exhaust the school’s reserves in 2012-13, and force substantial cost reductions beginning in the 2013 school year. As for the whole system? Ochoa says the cuts would require “very difficult and unpalatable decisions.”
The debate over Prop. 30 has one principal believing the atmosphere is rife with opportunity: Instead of pointing fingers over how the state got where it is, says Forest Grove Elementary’s Mariphil Romanow-Cole, maybe it’s time to figure out what matters most.
Romanow-Cole spoke to me on her lunch, and took great pains to explain she was doing so while wearing her hat as a vice president of legislative action for the Association of California School Administrators.
“On the news lately, we hear about ‘the fiscal cliff.’ If Prop. 30 doesn’t pass it’s a catastrophe for public schools,” she says.
The cuts would be equal to losing $457 per student in K-12 schools, she adds. Multiply that number by the 70,000 K-12 students in Monterey County.
For Monterey County, it will be a loss of $32 million. And when the money goes away, parents can look forward to things like larger class sizes and shorter school days.
“At some point if this doesn’t pass, and people see the class sizes going up to the point there are 38 kids in a kindergarten class and shorter days, I think the voters will stand up and say, ‘Wait a minute, we have to revisit this,’” Romanow-Cole says. “In California people value the future of their children.”
Prop. 30, if passed, would raise the state’s sales and use tax by a quarter-cent for four years to 7.5 percent statewide. It also would raise the income tax rate on people making more than $250,000 for the next seven years, and on couples making more than $500,000. A couple making more than $1 million would see their tax rate increase by 3 percent, while an individual making more than $250,000 would see a 1 percent increase.
It’s no surprise, then, that rich people oppose it. What is a little more surprising for me is the kind of rich people who do. While the Prop. 30 opposition campaign has only raised $2.2 million (compared to the pro 30 coffers of nearly $28 million) the list of opponents is loaded with Silicon Valley’s venture capital elite, the men (and they are overwhelmingly men) who bank on finding great entrepreneurs with the next great idea, and turning it into something massive. Without venture capital, there’s no Google. There’s no Facebook. There’s no Dropbox.
How can we expect to have a skilled workforce, much less minds capable of developing the next set of world-changing ideas, if we don’t adequately fund public education?
There are 28 opponents funding the anti-Prop. 30 campaign, and about half are venture capitalists. I asked about half of those 14 to talk. Only one responded by the Weekly’s deadline.
Shawn Carolan, a team member at Menlo Ventures, donated $1,000 to oppose Prop. 30, and he did so, he says, despite being a proponent of public schools, a board member of the famed Rocketship Education (a top-performing charter school)and with a wife who was a teacher and kids in the public school system.
He says Prop. 30 “is a huge income-tax increase with incremental funds not specified for where they will go” in a state with high income tax rates.
“As a CEO, and having been involved with some of the best-run companies in the world, I’ve seen time and time again that until reality is dealt with, hard decisions better for the health of the enterprise don’t get made,” he says. “There are systemic fixes to education that are being proven in schools like Rocketship, and I want the state to be forced to fix the root problem.”
I asked Romanow-Crow how parents are going to explain it to their kids if Prop. 30 doesn’t pass.
“You tell kids that people are so nervous about paying their own bills that they’re not thinking of the future,” she says.
But Silicon Valley thinks of nothing but the future. And therein lies a great disconnect.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org