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Morally Repugnant Misrepresentation Puts Education of 12,500 Students at Risk

By John Petz

As a founder of Citizens for School District Reform and a longtime children's advocate I am stunned and appalled by the way in which the opponents of Prop EE have lied to the community in an attempt to make their case.

Their goal, which can be clearly discerned simply by reading their ballot argument, is to cause EE to fail as a way of fermenting citizen revolt and putting pressure on the Santa Monica City Council to direct more budget dollars toward education and other "community" needs.

I too would like to see more of our City budget dedicated to our schools and local youth programs, but I believe it is morally repugnant to try and achieve that goal by misrepresenting the school districts performance over the past two years, and thereby putting the education of 12,500 SMMUSD students at risk.

Contrary to what the opponents of EE would have you believe, we have seen some extremely positive changes take place in our district over the past two years.

These changes include the creation of a blue-ribbon Financial Oversight Committee, chaired by RAND Corp. Executive Vice-president Michael Rich and peopled with some of the top business minds in our community.

A key recommendation of the Financial Oversight committee called for the district to do a better job of handling its contract negotiations to ensure that salary costs were more in line with revenues. As the result of a great amount of teamwork between the union and the district, the new teachers contract calls for a 0 percent pay raise this year and a financially responsible 2 percent raise next year. The contract stands as a powerful example of the district's renewed emphasis on fiscal accountability.

It also demonstrates Deasy's commitment to running a tight ship as, during the first year of his tenure, the district amassed a surplus, and he personally raised more than $3 million in philanthropic and foundation grants to fund district programs.

Perhaps most impressive is the way Deasy has jumped in and taken a hands-on approach to the Prop X school construction projects. As a result of his efforts, the chairman of the $4 billion dollar Jacobs Construction Company appeared in person before our School Board and agreed to make adjustments which have improved the quality of the work being done and substantially increased the amount of product we are receiving for our money.

The bottom line is that the bottom line is very important to our Superintendent and it is being watched closely.

The District has also been moving ahead on a variety of other fronts including:

- Restructuring SAMOHI to create a more effective learning environment.
- Developing and implementing a community driven Strategic Plan to help insure all children succeed.
- And dealing quickly and effectively with the demands of community groups such as the Mothers for Justice.

So when the opponents to Prop EE tell you nothing has changed with SMMUSD, they are lying. And when, in the 11th hour, they suddenly start harping about the "unfairness" of the tax, know that this is just another calculated attempt to defeat Prop EE as a means of mounting a political attack on the City Council.

And perhaps that wouldn't be such a bad thing if the financial situation of our schools weren't so serious.

The state of California has a $38 billion dollar deficit. Last year the state made midyear budget cuts for the first time in history. This year it has announced that it is going to make midyear cuts again -- bigger ones. And these midyear cuts are in addition to the $5 million dollars in cuts that have already been made to next year's SMMUSD budget.

If we don't pass the parcel tax the negative effects on our school system will be immediate and painful.

This is not a fire drill. This is the real thing. There is no magic box, no hidden money. As good as our superintendent is, he is not a magician. If the money isn't there the programs and services must be cut.

Please think about this when it's your turn to stand up and vote.

Think about the benefits of having a school system that stands tall as a reflection of the best we have to offer, and that enriches children's lives, while enhancing the value of every piece of property in this town.

Quality schools make a quality community. Vote yes on Prop EE.

Petz is oo-founder of Citizens for School District Reform

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