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PD Editorial: Let's ensure school year starts, ends well


For thousands of children in Santa Rosa and other parts of Sonoma County, summer officially ends today with the beginning of the school year. Most students in Petaluma and other districts will head to class for the first time on Wednesday or in the days to come.

We offer here our traditional petitions for Sonoma County residents to be careful when driving and to be on the lookout for those backpack-laden children still shaking off the vestiges of vacation break. They're not likely to be at their best when it comes to being either alert or awake.

We also add one other appeal concerning the welfare of students: Let's ensure their school year ends as well as it begins.

At the moment, the educational calendar is shrouded in uncertainty.

Thanks to recent budget cuts, most districts in California have already cut their calendars to 175 instructional days from 180, which was the minimum allowed since the early 1980s. And more cuts are on the horizon.

Under a budget approved by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year, public schools would face roughly $5 billion in mid-year cuts if Proposition 30 — the governor's tax measure — is not approved on Nov. 6.

Proposition 30 calls for increasing personal income tax on annual earnings of more than $250,000 for seven years. It also would increase sales tax by a quarter cent for four years.

If it fails, schools would lose funding equivalent to three weeks of class. It's unlikely they would take it all out by reducing instructional days. But if so, it would be equivalent to ending Santa Rosa's school year on May 6, 2013, instead of the current May 27.

College students also will be beginning the year in a fog about how it will end up. The UC system and the state university systems would each face a $250 million reduction if Proposition 30 fails.

Another significant measure is Proposition 38, the Molly Munger tax initiative, which calls for increases in personal income tax rates for high-income Californians, with two-thirds of the revenue going to K-12 schools and 30 percent going to repay state debt.

We have yet to issue our recommendations concerning these and other budget-related propositions on the Nov. 6 ballot. We first want to see what the Legislature comes out with in terms of pension reform measures and what assurances voters will have that revenue will go to schools. Nevertheless, it doesn't take much to see that students at all levels are caught in a middle of a major battle over taxes and budgets. And, one way or another, schools will need the help of voters and state lawmakers.

Meanwhile, local voters also will be deciding on the makeup of six school boards around the county, outcomes that could also have a profound impact on children and the quality of their education.

Among these is a five-candidate race to fill four seats on the Santa Rosa school board and a race to fill two seats on the Sonoma County Board of Education.

We encourage residents to stay alert today and for what happens between now and Nov. 6. Children need to make the right choices today about getting to class. But voters will need to make the right choices to assure that once they get there they'll be getting a quality education.