State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson was in Pleasant Hill on Tuesday, speaking to a group of credit union workers, and explaining his support for two ballot initiatives in November that would, he said, return the tax rate to that of 10 years ago and provide more money for primary and higher education in California.
Torlakson, who began his career as a teacher and track coach (including a stint at Pleasant Hill High), and went on to be an Antioch City Council member, county supervisor, state assemblyman and state senator before being elected two years ago to his current position, told the crowd that “it’s my job to keep a child’s natural curiosity alive, to have young people think about their future and then aim toward it.”
Calling himself an optimist, Torlakson said that despite the 25 percent cut to education California has seen over the past four years (ten percent more, he noted, than school budgets were cut at the height of the Great Depression), he said most of the 6 million school kids in California remain eager to learn, and the teachers eager to teach.
He said that career technical education, such as training in carpentry, plumbing and other skills, has begun to play a larger role in schools throughout the state.
“While we want every one of our children to go to college, we know the new economy demands higher levels of education all the way around,” Torlakson said. “When does your plumbing usually break down? Mine usually does on Saturday or Sunday. And I know they make a good living. This is one example of career technical education.”:
He said the schools continue to promote healthy eating and exercise to address the rising crisis of diabetes and obesity, and the dropout rate is beginning to turn around.
“But the schools are saying ‘we need help,’” Torlakson said. “So we as voters need to decide whether we want to invest more taxes in our schools in November.”
There will be two measures on the ballot in November. One, Measure 30, would raise taxes on those making $250,000 or more per year, for seven years. That measure is estimated to bring in up to $7.6 billion per year in revenue. The other initiative, Measure 38, would increase taxes on all those making at least $7,316 per year. The amount would grow depending on the annual salary of the taxpayer. That initiative would be in place for 12 years, and is estimated to raise $10 billion to $12 billion a year for 12 years, divided among K-12 and early childhood education.
“If these initiatives fail, we’re on deck to cut another ten percent,” he said. “That would be truly disasterous. The system is already strained to the limit.”
Torlakson pointed out that 35,000 teachers and 30,000 non-teaching personnel have been laid off in the past few years, increasing class size. But he said schools are doing all they can to save money, from joint purchasing agreements to turning off computers after 15 minutes of non-use.
He acknowledged that there was a lot of skepticism about the way the state handles its money.
“There is a lot of mistrust out there,” Torlakson said, “but I think there is also the realization that further cuts will not be to fat, but to the bone.”
Will you vote for one or both of the school tax initiatives in November? Tell us in the comments.