Besides taxes, few solutions at town hall on education

SF Public Press
 — Feb 26 2010 - 6:55pm
The organizers of what was billed as a town hall-style meeting on education funding in the Marina Thursday said their intention was to have a conversation with the community about solutions to money woes for the coming school year.
But the evening’s talk, moderated by Michael Krasny, host of KQED-FM’s “Forum,” fell short of those expectations for some parents, educators and others in attendance — as evidenced by booing and hissing that punctuated the meeting.
Everyone knew the outlines of the problem: The San Francisco Unified School District is facing cuts of $113 million over the next two years, resulting from lower state subsidies and higher personnel costs.
The panelists, mostly local and state politicians hailing from San Francisco, focused on solutions involving new taxes, rather than cutting programs, jobs or the length of the school year.
The long list of prominent Democratic figures — including Mayor Gavin Newsom and state legislators Mark Leno, Leland Yee, Tom Ammiano and Fiona Ma — presented a range of new taxes schemes:
  •  Amending Proposition 13 to allow the taxing of commercial and residential property at a different rate
  • Instating another parcel tax
  • Charging a 1 percent tax on all entertainment tickets to fund school district arts and music programs (and splitting the proceeds with Muni to partially address the transit budget shortfall)
  • A minor tax at the gas pump (designed to counter Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed “swap” of one gasoline fee for another)
The gathering was replete with Democratic partisanship and badmouthing of Schwarzenegger for his role in raiding California’s state education funds to balance the state budget. Ma quipped that Schwarzenegger’s solution for the problem of inadequate funding in education was “smoking a stogie” in his Jacuzzi.
Yet there was clearly not enough time for community response. Several in the audience yelled in outrage when a teacher of 13 years, who had waited more than half an hour to speak, was told that there was no time for his question. Audience members protested, yelling at Krasny to let the man speak.
Given the floor, the speaker — one of only four or five in attendance given roughly 30 seconds each — unleashed a fiery speech accusing the panel of overlooking their own spending habits, and recommending that Carlos Garcia, superintendent of San Francisco schools, make deeper cuts in the central office and reduce the number of administrators.