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First, I’d like to point out that 70 percent of constituents and 22 of 37 schools in the Poway Unified School District are in the city of San Diego. The other 15 schools are in Poway and San Diego County (unincorporated 4S Ranch). So Poway Unified is also very much affected by this redevelopment shell game going on in San Diego and in Poway.
Historically, communities in America have relied predominantly on stable local property tax dollars to fund local schools. Obviously, Proposition 13 in California changed that. But the key word is “stable.” Property tax revenue doesn’t fluctuate as much as state sales and income tax revenue. Proposition 98, which was supposed to be a floor, not a ceiling, guarantees approximately 40 percent of state revenue. But Prop. 98 has been so manipulated and mangled that education advocates want to do away with it, because it has had the unintended effect of actually justifying cuts. Forty percent of nothing is nothing, and when the state continuously runs structural deficits, redevelopment is replacing stable school funding with a quagmire of budget cuts. In 2010, Paul Navarro from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office in Sacramento said to 25 PTA parents, “We either cut schools or cut children’s medical care. You decide!” Did redevelopment projects have to make that false choice?
Here’s a case in point: Vehicle license fees. In 2004 Gov. Schwarzenegger lowered the vehicle license fees dramatically and that cost cities and counties $6 billion in revenue. The governor then took that amount in school property tax revenue and gave it to the cities and counties. Schools were to be reimbursed from the state general fund. But then he suspended Prop. 98 because of the need to fund other programs and education stakeholders sued when the governor broke a promise of repayment. The plaintiffs won the lawsuit and some legislators decided to pass a bill that apportioned all of the money (which was withheld from every school in the state) to the lowest decile schools through an application process. (SB1133 — Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) — aka, “The Governor’s Broken Promise.”) So the property tax revenue that was taken from schools to give to cities and counties was never really replaced.
Currently, in the county, schools receive 43 percent of the property tax revenue pie. And that pie shrunk due to Prop. 13. In Maryland, where I lived over 10 years ago, schools received almost 60 percent of property tax revenues. The rest of the revenue went to police and fire, because counties and cities had their own income taxes, and those also went mostly to schools. Needless to say our per-student funding was almost twice that of California.
Attached is a graph of what has happened to our funding. It’s hard to imagine that someone can claim that redevelopment is adding to our coffers. I’ve been in this school district for over 10 years and we were very much underfunded a decade ago. Little did I know those were the “glory days.”
Gov. Brown is absolutely right. Redevelopment is hurting schools. The biggest dream for all school districts is to become “basic aid districts,” where they receive so much property tax revenue for schools that they don’t need to rely on erratic state funds. There are basic aid school districts in Northern California with per pupil funding of $14,000 or $16,000. As you can see from the graph, Poway Unified (70 percent of us in San Diego City) hovers around $5,000.
Kimberley Beatty lives in Sabre Springs. She is vice president of legislation for the Palomar Council PTSA in the Poway Unified School District.