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Council Gives Final Approval to School Funding

By Gene Williams
Staff Writer

April 14 -- Kudos and congratulations were exchanged among City officials and public education advocates Tuesday night, when, as expected, the City Council passed an agreement that will pump at least $6 million a year into Santa Monica’s cash-strapped school district.

The five-year contract will double the amount of money the district has traditionally received from the City in exchange for after-hours use of school facilities for the public.

It also secures a log-term commitment from the City, which has allocated funding to the district on a year-to-year-basis.

“It’s been a long road,” said council member Ken Genser. “I’m glad we’re all smiling here at the end.”

The approval came a year after the Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) pressured the council into taking action by threatening to go after the money through a potentially divisive ballot initiative to amend the City Charter. (“Group Files Measure for Council School Funding,” January 7, 2004)

“I think the advocates for education have been extremely effective; sometimes irritatingly so,” Genser said. “But I think they have done a superb job at pushing us as leaders of this community to allocating these funds.”

CEPS co-chair Shari Davis was pleased with the outcome.

“We have come so far since last year,” said Davis, who thanked the City officials “for all the difficult work you have dedicated to making this happen.

“Tonight is a crowning achievement for you, our City leaders,” Davis added, “and for everyone who got involved in the steps along the way.”

School superintendent John Deasy joined in the effluence of praise, offering his “sincere thanks” to the council for its “support of this historic agreement.

“I really encourage all of us to enjoy this moment of celebration,” Deasy added.

Council member Richard Bloom called the process leading to the agreement “a magnificent journey.”

But Tuesday’s lovefest bore little resemblance to the agreement’s initial reception in Spring of last year when council member Pam O’Conner compared CEPs to “school yard bullies” and council member Michael Feinstein said he felt “ripped off,” by the group’s “slash and burn” politics. (“School Funding Agreement Scales Final Hurdle,” May 12, 2004)

Yet now, with their differences mostly behind them, the civic advocates and public officials turned their vitriol towards Sacramento.

Superintendent Deasy had less than kind words for the way the State funds California’s public schools.

“I’m deeply discouraged that we must forge such an agreement in this state,” Deasy stated, “for the State of California has historically chosen to turn its back on public education, to the education that millions of children rely on, knowing that in this state they will be woefully underserved.

“It’s been our commitment to make sure this doesn’t happen to the students (here),” Deasy added.

Council member Bloom echoed the superintendent’s remarks, saying, “The lack of funding and lack of support from Sacramento” gives the issue “a truly dark side.

“We’re very fortunate in Santa Monica to have the wherewithal to do this,” Bloom said, but added, “There are districts across the state that don’t have the ability to do that.

The differences between school districts across the state, Bloom said, is “dramatic and depressing.” He called the situation a “two tier system” of “have and have nots.”

The system “has to change for all Californians, not just Santa Monicans,” said Bloom.

Toward that end, CEPs announced that it has joined efforts with the State PTA which will hold community meetings across the state on April 27 and then march to the Capitol steps the following day to protest Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget.

“It doesn’t have to be the way it is now,” CEPS co-chair Louise Jaffe told The Lookout earlier this week. “It didn’t used to be like that.”

Tuesday’s agreement will be in place until June 2009, when it can be renegotiated. Until then, the amount the City pays can be increased or decreased as much as $1 million a year depending on revenues.

On Tuesday night, the council also directed City Manager Susan McCarthy to negotiate with Deasy a payment schedule for the funding.

McCarthy called the contract “an exchange of values approach” that “meets the needs of both the City and the schools and harmonizes with the California system.”

The “power and the responsibility to fund the public schools” belongs to the State, and not the City government, McCarthy said.

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