Pro and Con of Measure M presented at forum
By Brian D. Wilson
Santa Paula News
Published: October 19, 2012
Both sides of Measure M, the ballot measure to create a new Santa Paula Unified School District, were presented at a forum last week at the Community Center.
Ginger Gherardi spoke in favor of the measure. She noted that several school board candidates had mentioned some of the positive things about unification. One of them was more state money every year without new taxes.
“This is a really critical issue, especially this year when we have two ballot measures that are on the state ballot - propositions 30 and 38 - that will be putting money into the schools,” Gherardi said. “If for some reason those ballot measures fail, these schools in Santa Paula are going to be in really sad shape, facing more draconian cuts in programs and things that we all consider important.”
She added, “Unification will provide opportunity for not only additional state money coming in, but for savings that will come about by reducing some of the administrative costs. We would go from two superintendents, two school district offices, to one superintendent, one school district office. Santa Paula’s really a small town. We really do not need to have two, separate school districts.”
Gherardi also said unification would allow for one vision for education in this community from kindergarten through grade 12, “one coordinated program that will not leave a gap between the middle school and high school, where our kids can progress from kindergarten into college.” Unification would be good for families because there would be one coordinated school calendar.
Speaking against unification were Santa Paula Elementary School Board members Rick Cadman and Tony Perez. Cadman was a teacher and school administrator and has served on the school board for four years. He showed a mailer from the Measure M proponents, claiming more state money for the new district.
Cadman said they’re talking about $1.4 million dollars from the state to help blend teacher salaries and benefit packages. “That money, which they don’t tell you is added to the ADA (Average Daily Attendance) and because it’s added to the ADA almost 30 percent of that would disappear immediately because we’re being deficit funded by the governor.... They also didn’t mention that the classified staffs from both districts couldn’t be laid off for two years.”
Cadman noted there’s no such thing as a coordinated program. “They can state there is, but there’s not.... We’re getting rhetoric as opposed to reality. There’s a K-8 program and there’s a 9-12 program. All of these things are nice, but they aren’t based on fact.”
After their opening statements, questions were read from the audience. The no side got to answer first.
Cadman said the state would loan the new district the money to get started. “However, they have to pay it back.... It takes an average of seven years to break even and we’re in a time of fiscal crisis. We’re looking at seven years of further cuts, not to mention Prop 30 if that fails.” He said there’d be even less money to put into classrooms.
Gherardi said they understand the cost of unification to be about $50,000, “which is less than the money that the elementary school district has spent this year on consultants and lawyers to discuss the issue of unification itself. It’s just a pittance in terms of the budget. It’s for things like stationary. Anybody who can add knows that if you take away the cost of one board, one office, one superintendent you will be saving money and it is not a small amount of money.”
One audience question asked about how existing debt would be handled. Gherardi said she understands that any debt, such as bond issues, would stay within the boundaries of each of the old districts. Briggs, Mupu and Santa Clara districts would not have to pay for current elementary district debts.
Cadman questioned the claim that administrative costs would be reduced. “If we do away with one superintendent that opens one office space,” he said. “But their district office is full, our district office is full, and all unified districts I’ve worked with have more directors: one for elementary, one for high school. Educational research shows that in most districts that have unified in the last 20 years in California they have actually increased the number of administrators. Less than four percent saved up to $4,000 while others spent more than 12 percent to increases in their administrative costs when they unified.”
Another audience question asked if the new board could level-down salaries in response to state budget cuts.
Gherardi said no, it’s a level up process. “No teacher or classified person will be paid less than they are currently being paid,” she said. She said she’s learned the high school teachers are paid less than the elementary teachers. “Part of unification will level out the salaries so that you’re basically paying people the same salary for the same job.... Similarly, the classified people at the high school are paid more than the classified people at the elementary district.”
Cadman noted, “This all has to be negotiated with the unions and the fact that the classified staffs are on a merit system in our district and not in theirs will be a big issue. That also takes it out of the hands of the school board. The other part I worry about is no teachers are going to lose their jobs. They actually could because of all the costs of unification and lack of money.”
In closing remarks Cadman said he doesn’t believe the district will get more money. “It’s going to be less money for students in the classroom,” he said. “Catch phrases are nice but there is reality.”
Perez added, “There’s a time and a place for everything, and I firmly believe the time for unification is not now.”
Gherardi closed her remarks by noting Santa Paula is a small town and she believes it is time for a change. “We do not need to have two separate school districts, two separate superintendents, separate administrative staffs in a town that is this small. Anybody who can add has to understand that we’ll be saving money by eliminating some of this duplication, and that money can go back into education.”