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Council Set to Authorize Funding Agreement

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

April 12 -- The City Council is expected to give the go-ahead Tuesday to a funding agreement that will pump at least $6 million a year into the cash-strapped School District.

The vote comes one year after the Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS)-- which now has its eyes set on state-wide education reform -- threatened to place a funding measure on the ballot.

In exchange for the funding -- which is designed to insulate public schools from the State's financial woes -- the district will allow the City to use its recreation fields.

Council members -- some of whom expressed initial reservations about the funding agreement put forth by the parent and teacher activist group -- said that although it will benefit public schools, it could have an adverse financial impact on the City in coming years.

"We'll see how it works out over the years," said Mayor Pam O'Connor, who likened CEPS to "school-yard bullies" before voting in favor of drafting the agreement last year.

"What happens if in the future the City doesn't have the funds, yet the schools are rolling in funding?" O'Connor said. "The assumption that the City's revenue stream will stay the same is optimistic."

While O'Connor hailed the agreement as a "success to help educate kids," she noted that it "is aimed at that segment of students who are in public schools only."

That, she said, is only "one piece" of what the City does to support education and Santa Monica's youth.

While O'Connor was cautiously optimistic, representatives of CEPS hailed Tuesday's expected vote, calling it the culmination of nearly five years work.

"I think it means we didn't issue any pink slips to teachers in our district this year," said Louis Jaffe, a co-chair of CEPS.

"If you look around the state that's a great achievement to be able to maintain quality in education, and have parents be proud and happy to send our kids to public schools," she said.

After securing local funding, the group now plans to push for education reform at a state level, partnering with the powerful lobby of the California Parents Teachers Association (PTA), Jaffe said.

"The state issue is trying to turn the discussion in California back to how we make our state public school system great again," said Jaffe. "It doesn't have to be the way it is now, with schools in the state they're in. It didn't used to be like that."

Their first action will be to join the State PTA in protesting Governor Schwarzenegger's proposed budget on April 27 and 28 in Sacramento.

Beyond that, Jaffe said the group will fight to preserve and protect Prop 98, a measure approved by voters in 1988 that ensures that schools enjoy a large share of any increase in state revenues.

CEPS will also work to make sure California's public school system is among the top 10 in the nation by 2015, Jaffe said.

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