Judi McKeehan: Marysville teacher urges support of Prop. 30
What can you expect in changes in your local schools this year? Let's start with what has already happened this fall. After many years of cuts, this school year started in Marysville with an increase in class size in all grade levels, anywhere from 8 percent to 29 percent increases. In a year when No Child Left Behind dictates that 90 percent of students perform proficient or advanced on the state tests, teachers are struggling to provide services with less support staff, psychologist time, after-school tutoring, books and supplies. Most teachers I know forgo their own breaks and lunch periods to try to help children keep up. Most teachers I know are spending more money from their own pockets to provide books and supplies to kids.
What should be even more concerning to families is what is coming, especially should Proposition 30 fail. This summer, the state passed Assembly Bill 1476. This law allows schools to decrease the number of days in the school year from 180 to 160. That is 20 possible days children will be sent home; 20 extra days for working parents to pay for child care and up to 20 days cut from teacher salaries.
As a teacher and administrator of 25 years, I am extremely discouraged to watch these devastating changes. I find I am mostly providing triage. On a daily basis, I have to choose which children get my attention and support. The needs of these kids and their families are increasing. I teach third grade.
This year, my student population includes six students reading at kindergarten and first-grade levels, 13 students reading at second-grade level, three students reading at third-grade level and four students reading at fourth- and fifth-grade levels. That is a lot of catching up to do to get to 90 percent proficient.
I am reluctant to complain about my decreasing salary and retirement, because I mostly do what I do to help children, but teacher salaries are being cut all over the state just as our responsibilities have skyrocketed. Besides the possible 5 percent to 11 percent salary cuts, should the school year be cut 10 to 20 days, our out of pocket health insurance cost will rise 43 percent this year. And, retirements are cut when salaries are cut.
Last week, as I looked at a line of six children waiting for my help, tears began to flow as I felt hopeless. I want to do everything I can for my students, but I can't do enough. In fact, I have decided to retire at the end of this school year. I am unable to continue both physically and emotionally.
If we want better for our students, we must consider paying more. You get what you pay for. Prop. 30 would increase the statewide sales tax rate by a quarter cent — or 1 cent for every $4 of goods and increase marginal income tax rates on singles with more than $250,000 in taxable income and couples with more than $500,000. For most of us, it would mean an extra penny for our morning mocha, but a sense of security regarding our children's education.
California taxes are high, but the revenue from Prop. 30 represents just more than half of what was lost when three other taxes expired in 2010 and 2011. The overall tax burden will still be lower than it was two years ago. I know that tax is a dirty word to many people out there who are suffering in this difficult economy. But be clear that we will all lose if our children do not get the education necessary to contribute to our society.
Judi McKeehan, a Nevada City resident, is a third-grade teacher at Marysville’s Edgewater Elementary.