reshaffer@csupomona.edu

Ralph E. Shaffer and
Walter P. Coombs 

                     PROP. 26: A POX ON BOTH THEIR HOUSES

   For those who are strong advocates of California's public schools and have 
long endorsed abolition of the 2/3 requirement for passage of school bonds, 
adoption of Prop. 26 will bring little satisfaction. It will be a victory won 
by deceit.  The misleading arguments put forth by its opponents have 
unfortunately been matched by equally deceptive claims and wrong-headed 
arguments advanced by its supporters.  The official Voter Information Guide for 
Prop. 26 is filled with fallacies on both sides.
   In statements that display the lingering influence of Howard Jarvis, who 
didn't think he should have to pay to educate another man's kids, Prop. 26's 
opponents make it clear that their real goal is to lower property taxes, not to 
improve schools.  These are the same folks who some years back sold us Prop. 
13, and are therefore partly responsible for the run-down condition of many of 
the state's public schools.
   Prop. 13's 1% cap on property taxes eliminated a district's ability to pay 
for repairs and upgrading of school plants through the traditional method of 
moderate tax increases.  Increasingly public schools have relied on bonds, with 
their two-thirds supermajority, not only for new construction but for repairs 
as well.
   The Jarvisites, in their zeal to defeat the current ballot measure, raise 
the specter of evil renters versus hard-working property owners.  They would 
have voters believe that property taxes stop at the door of the homeowner.  
Renters are bogeymen who will joyously vote for bonds, burdening the rest of us 
with taxes to educate their kids.  Surely no landlord would pass on a tax 
increase to the tenants!
   That the main concern of the Jarvis organization is property taxes, not the 
improvement of public education, is evident by counting nouns in their ballot 
argument.  "Tax," in some form, appears nearly 30 times.  "Children" are 
mentioned once.
   For their part, proponents of Prop. 26 have carried obfuscation to its 
zenith.  Their ballot statement and television commercials imply that passage 
of Prop. 26 will be the magic bullet for improvement of our schools.  Vote for 
the ballot measure and "help make school boards accountable."  Never mind that 
they always were, faced with recall or re-election, as the Belmont fiasco 
demonstrated.  While proponents claim that Prop. 26 will "prevent problems like 
Belmont High," they ignore the fact that the Belmont disaster occurred even 
though the Los Angeles school board followed up-front procedures similar to 
those in Prop. 26.
   Furthermore, they argue that Prop. 26 will "help reduce class size for all 
our kids," though nothing in the measure guarantees that.  Bonds still have to 
be voted, and while the bonds may build schools they don't staff them or buy 
pencils, paper and books.  And a new but empty classroom won't reduce class 
size.
   Just as their opponents have waved the red flag of "renters" outvoting 
property owners, so the pro-school crowd has found its own whipping boy: 
"bureaucracy."  Somehow Prop. 26 frees us from those awful bureaucrats who 
currently run the schools.  Unfortunately, the California Teachers Association 
doesn't seem to realize that in the minds of many voters the people who support 
this measure are the bureaucrats, and that includes the teachers.
   Those overcrowded classrooms that backers of Prop. 26 decry are not solely 
the fault of the supermajority requirement for passage of bonds.  Over the last 
decade school boards, with the tacit acquiescence of faculties, have turned 
campus after campus into private, usually religious, schools.  The Jarvisites 
are unusually quiet about what amounts to a taxpayer subsidy to parochial 
schools.  But then they have never opposed dismemberment of public education.
   In one San Gabriel Valley district (Charter Oak), four of the eleven schools 
that once served the community are now rented to religious-based educators.  At 
the same time, portable classrooms have mushroomed on the district's remaining 
campuses.  To convince voters of the need for more classrooms and repair of 
existing facilities, the administration recently circulated a "survey," perhaps 
paving the way for Prop. 26.  There is little interest in reclaiming those lost 
classrooms that could quickly end overcrowding.
   To strengthen their position with some voters, proponents have caved in to 
the charter school forces, who represent no more than 2% of the state's public 
school students. A large portion of the proposition provides for allocation of 
bond money for construction of charter facilities even though the whole concept 
of charter schools is contrary to the traditional idea of public education.  
That's one reason why the California Federation of Teachers opposes Prop. 26, 
although the Jarvis argument, which cites the CFT opposition, won't tell you 
that.
   Advocates of a simple majority for the passage of school bonds may prevail 
on March 7.  Education has become the chic buzzword of the time.  But our 
children will not benefit until the democratic concept of public schools 
becomes once again the powerful commitment that motivates California's 
educational policy.
                                - - -

   (Ralph E. Shaffer and Walter P. Coombs are professors emeriti at Cal Poly 
Pomona.)