"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
This week's newsmaker is Kerry Clegg, president of the California School Boards Association and a school board member for the Sulphur Springs Union School District in Canyon Country. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: How did you become president of the California School Boards Association?
Clegg: It's been kind of a long process, but I was first elected to the Sulphur Springs School Board in 1989, and within about a year of being elected there became a vacancy in what the CSBA calls the delegate assembly. It's representation from a variety of boards within geographic regions. ... There was a vacancy and somehow my name came up. ... I was appointed by the board president at that time to sit in the delegate assembly.
You go a couple times a year to meetings at the state Capitol and begin to look more at state issues that affect school districts, as opposed to just the local issues that are affecting your school districts. I was very interested and very active in the process reporting back to the local Trustees Association, which I was member of, as well as the Antelope Valley Trustees Association. ... After I had been on that for nine years, they split Los Angeles County into four major regions, and the new one was the Santa Clarita Valley and the Antelope Valley, pooled together.
At that time they needed a new director to manage each of the regions, and that directorship meant being on the board of directors of CSBA and going to Sacramento about every other month. The local trustees as well as the Antelope Valley trustees decided I would be a good candidate for that, and I got on the board of directors about eight years ago. During that process I worked more and more with the state leadership and represented this region and our schools there. ... Three years ago I thought I was ready; I sort of became semi-retired and had more time to devote to it, and I ran for the position and was elected by the delegate assembly, which is roughly 280 school board members across the state.
Signal: Only elementary and high school districts?
Clegg: All school districts well, it doesn't represent the community colleges; it's 1,035 elementary, high school, joint school districts, ROPs and county boards of education.
Signal: It sounds like a full-time job more than the average school board member who attends meetings a couple of nights a month.
Clegg: As president I have spent ... almost 50 percent of my working time this year in Sacramento or doing CSBA activities. So you have to be able to have either a very understanding boss, be your boss, be retired or
Signal: Which are you? What did you do before all of this school stuff?
Clegg: I was a research scientist at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in the San Fernando Valley and a visiting professor at UCLA. ... I spent about 25 years doing basic scientific research and teaching at UCLA and at the VA Hospital.
After the earthquake sort of destroyed the hospital at the VA, there was a lot of downsizing going on, and between 1994 and å97 I sort of lost interest in what was going on there and decided that maybe I'd change careers. I got much more interested in the education area and became more active at CSBA...
Signal: As a biologist, do you think there's a place for intelligent design in the science classroom? What do you think of the debate?
Clegg: It's funny that you should ask that. This year as president, CSBA held a task force, a California science task force, and it was a joint task force between the CSBA and the California Science Teachers Association to look at science education (and) math education in California and come up with some recommendations. While we didn't spend a lot trouble (or) time talking about the intelligent design debate, it has come up as an article ... My personal feelings about it my background as a scientist in biological sciences makes me a strong advocate for evolution. I understand what the theory of evolution is and how it works and how it's supported and what I can do and what I can't do. The state developed state frameworks and standards in science that included the teaching of evolution. They did not include intelligent design.
Really from my perspective, intelligent design and that debate is one in which certain groups are trying to reinforce bringing religious doctrine back into the schools. Schools, by law, are designed to stay secular. I think that the state framework recognizes evolution as being a bona fide scientific theory that is subject to scientific testing, and intelligent design is not subject to scientific testing. It's something that you have to accept on a faith-based principle and more rightly belongs in church with all of the other religious doctrine.
I have no problem with it. My wife and I and my kids all go to St. Clare's (Catholic Church in Canyon Country) relatively regularly. My son is a student at St. Mary's College up in Moraga, and I have no problem resolving it within my own personal feelings, and I think that everybody needs to do that. For school boards, my recommendation has been to stay the course with the state frameworks and try to avoid the discussion.
It's something that is going to be eventually resolved in the courts. Right now there are two cases going on. One is in Dover, Penn., in which case the opponents are trying to get the idea of intelligent design out of the schools. And then there's also a case up here in Roseville (Sacramento area) in which the proponents of intelligent design are trying to get it into the schools. So right now both sides are sort of fighting it out in court, and I'm sure its going to just be like the "one nation under God" issues that have been coming up in the Supreme Court. Some of these things are going to have to be decided by the courts.
Signal: As the representative of all the school boards, what message have you carried to the governor and his staff in the current budget year?
Clegg: The message we have been carrying all year long, and actually prior to January, was that we understood that the state was in some financial difficulty; that the governor last year did not get all of the increase in revenues that he was looking for, especially in terms of Indian gaming and some other issues that he thought would help to bolster his budget.
Up until December we were as the president of CSBA, and along with other members of the education coalition that we belong to we were desperately trying to get the governor to meet with us so that we could discuss the deal that he had made with the education coalition that had been codified by the Legislature to try and come up with some kind of compromise, either a reduction in the funding for the year, increase the giveback or whatever.
Up through December, the staff of the governor was assuring everybody that he intended to honor the deal, and that it was set in stone. It wasn't until the State of the State (address) and the January budget that everything sort of did a 180-degree about-face. Unfortunately the position the governor took was that the state's budget woes are caused by education, as well as other what he labeled as special interest groups.
Signal: "Education and other special interest groups."
Clegg: Yeah. I think our kids ARE a special interest group, and we need to take care of them. (But he said) that was what was busting the budget. He sort of took the gloves off and really kind of went on the attack against not only teachers unions (and) education in general, but the other public employees' unions as well.
In reality, reform looks at the budgeting issues over the last 10 years. You actually will see that education's budget went up about 22 percent, but the rest of the state spending went up 30 (percent). Why he decides that we're the ones (who are) breaking the budget is beyond me.
Signal: Many union leaders and Democratic officials have made the same arguments. But as a school board member, you're the employer
Clegg: The school board association tends to be relatively nonpartisan about that. But you know, that also gets down to that the school boards really know where the money is going.
People speculate a lot of times about schools being overfunded, but frankly, I can tell you that the districts out here in the Santa Clarita Valley are not overfunded. In fact, most of us are considered what in the vernacular are "low-wealth" districts. We're actually funded below the state average. And we do pretty well on the amount of money that we get. We'd do a lot better, and we will be able to put a lot more programs like music and performing arts and visual arts and a variety of other things that make education rich for kids, back into our classrooms, if we had some additional discretionary funding.
But the reality of it is, with the current budget situation, we're barely making ends meet. Last year with the 2004-05 budget, the state, realizing that they had made some midyear cuts in the funds, allowed the districts to dip into their required reserves and go below the state-mandated 3-percent level. Many districts did that. We had to deficit-spend a little bit for last year. The first part of the money we got this year went to bring our reserves back up above 3 percent. So it really has left very little in the way of discretionary funds to either provide for raises, to reinstate programs that we cut, to reinstate some of the custodial times that we had to cut to make our budget last year.
Signal: What distinguishes the position of the school boards and the position of the teachers union?
Clegg: Right now, in terms of the budget, there is no distinction. We're on board 100 percent with the teachers in terms of the budget. We're part of the education coalition; the education coalition negotiated the budget deal with the governor (and) shook on it. We're part of the (signatories) and supported pushing it through the Legislature and having it codified by the Legislature and put into law.
When the governor decided not to honor that agreement and the Legislature, by passing the budget, decided not to back up education, CSBA and myself and the executive director we're the only groups of the education coalition to come out and to blame both the Legislature for failing to meet their obligations, as well as the governor. We're nonpartisan, and we think the Legislature failed just as much.
Signal: Tell us about Proposition 76.
Clegg: Proposition 76 is not a good deal for schools, and frankly it's probably not going to be a very good deal for the state in general.
Signal: What does it do?
Clegg: A variety of things. First of all, it says, "live within our means," but really it's "live within the governor's means" in terms of what would happen with that budget.
It gives the governor unprecedented powers over the budging process and takes a lot of power away from the Legislature, which has been a partnership deal pretty much all along. The governor proposes the budget, the Legislature works and acts on the budget, and the governor signs it. And that's the way it's been. There is a little bit of give and take, and there are some negotiations that go on in that process.
Under Proposition 76, if the Legislature doesn't get around to passing a budget, the governor can unilaterally can continue the budget from the current year on into the next year. If he decides, with his appointed Department of the Finance director, that there is not enough revenue to cover the expenditures that are proposed, he can, up to four times a year, propose unilateral cuts in budgets which for schools is devastating.
Any time we start our budget year and in the mid year they cut the amount of money they are going to send to us, it puts schools in a big bind. Because we've already let out contracts, we've already hired teachers; we can't let them go during the year. The expenditures for the schools will not go down, but the revenue for the schools will go down under those kinds of situations. The result is that schools have to lay off their classified people; they have to lay off their part-time people; they have to consolidate classes; get rid of discretionary programs like music and band and arts and stuff like that because those programs eat up a lot of the budget in a way that we wouldn't have it.
Signal: One aspect of Proposition 76 is that the increase in the education budget each year would equal the average of the last three years' increase. Education funding would steadily increase but you wouldn't have big jumps in good years that are impossible to maintain in lean years, as is the case today.
Clegg: That's not necessarily what the legislative analyst has come out and said. She's an independent (official; she) does feel that this would provide some lack of stability because if the revenue didn't come in and the governor cuts the budget, then the schools are the ones left hanging.
One of the issues also in Proposition 76 is that fact that it completely negates all of Proposition 98, which is the voter-approved measure that provides a minimum funding guarantee for schools.
This state is somewhere around the 44th in the nation for per-pupil funding. The reality of the problem if the governor is interested in reforming the state, you need to go back and reform tax policy in the state, because it is the tax policy in the state that has caused most of our problems.
Nobody wants to touch the sacred cow of Proposition 13 that was passed. But all other states that have $17,000 (or) $20,000-a-year funding are high-property tax states, low-income tax states. We have just the inverse situation. What has happened with Proposition 13 is that it has taken authority away from the local school boards to raise revenue to support their schools, and giving it to the state. The state right does not seem to be able to get hold of its revenue problems in such a way that they can generate enough revenues to support the programs that the voters of the state expect. And that's the reform that needs to be discussed in Sacramento.
We've had representatives from the Anderson Forecast at UCLA and (economist) Christopher Thornberg come and talk to a variety of different groups, and he's done quite a bit of analysis in taxation policy in California. The myth is that Californians are overtaxed. In reality, we are undertaxed in our property taxes, compared to the rest of the nation, and our income tax is not as high; it's below the median in terms of other states. So we're not really an overtaxed state although tax groups would try and say we (are).
At some point, a discussion has got to be made in Sacramento and everywhere else, among the public, of what programs do you expect to be funded? And how are we going to be raising the revenues to do it? That discussion isn't taking place in there, and the result is that after Proposition 13 sort of decimated the way schools were being funded, the Proposition 98 guarantee provided us with a minimum funding guarantee that we would have a stable, predictable amount of the money each year, regardless of what the state's revenues were.
The problem, as you've said, does come when the state gets a lot of extra revenues and they decide that they are going to fund above the minimum guarantee. Under Proposition 98, that gets built in the base; it becomes the base, and they have to meet it every year.
The recession that we had in the å90s has brought it to a head an understanding that our taxation mechanisms are not sufficient for what the state expects to be doing. Sooner or later that needs to be the reform discussion in Sacramento. But it hasn't happened yet.
Signal: It seems education is screaming loudest because education gets about half of the state's general fund, so if the state budget is cut, schools take the biggest hit.
Clegg: Yeah, it's about 42 percent. With higher education it's another 7 or 10 percent, so about 50-some percent goes to education.
Signal: What taxes should the state be raising?
Clegg: First of all, the governor is being very selective in terms of the promises that he makes and the promises that he keeps. He promised the voters that he would refund (vehicle license fees), and in fact the VLF provided a few hundred dollars for people. It exacerbated the state's deficit by about $4 billion. That forced the cities and counties to go through Proposition 1A. They wanted to make sure they weren't going to get messed up with losing property tax revenues as it comes through. With Proposition 1A, now they get a pass-through of all the local property taxes to fund cities and counties.
That money, according to the governor, rightly should have been in Proposition 98, so he put it into the budget this year and then passed it through to the cities and we really didn't see that money. He tried to claim a 7-percent increase in school funding.
We have the VLF; that exacerbated the problem. There are gasoline excise taxes; we're probably one of the lowest in the nation. With the high cost of gasoline now, if they raised it one or two cents, they'd probably fund their highway program a little bit more and people wouldn't really see (the increase).
There are a lot of varieties of things that could be done, and I'm not advocating any of them, because I'm not big on tax increases, either. The problem is that there is a mismatch between programs the public expects to have services for highways, health, schools, fire protection and those kinds of things. There's a cost associated with (them). Somehow the governor and Legislature need to come to grips in terms of, what is the cost of the services they are going to provide, and how are we going to raise the revenues?
Another big issue that CSBA is taking on ... is what we call an "adequacy" campaign. The real problem is and the governor has taken this on partially, as well, by having his quality education committee that he has set up to look at this the state really does not know what it should take to fund education. What it costs for special-Ed kids, what it costs to provide music programs, what it costs for high school sports, what it costs for books, teaching, and a variety of things. They just do it kind of shotgun and hope that schools can match their budgets. They don't know the exact cost of trying to bring disadvantaged kids' and English language learners' reading skills up to the state-expected averages.
For a long time ... they have talking about what should be an adequate level of funding? Why should we be 44th in the (nation) when we have the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world? I have said this a number of times: We've got the highest quality education system trying to be funded on a third-world budget. The real issue is, what should be the budget? What is the cost of educating our kids? Are we willing to pay for it?
CSBA has undertaken part of this problem in conjunction with the governor's committee, but we have funding from the four major foundations that are funding the governor's committee the Hewlett, Gates, Irvine and Stuart foundations to begin to pull together a coalition of groups to once that committee and the study on "what should it cost to fund education in California" is finished to go out and try to build a coalition to convince the people and the Legislature and the governor to pass the laws and the taxation process, to get it passed.
We've already got the League of Women Voters and Children Now organization as partners in this campaign process to adequately fund schools in California. There is no reason why we shouldn't have high-class standards that we have, world-class standards, and be 44th in the nation in per-pupil funding.
Signal: California School Boards Association, yes or no on Proposition 76?
Clegg: No on 76. We have come out and opposed 76.
Signal: How about 75, which would require unions to get permission of their members before spending dues on political campaigns?
Clegg: CSBA is neutral on that. That's a union position, and as management both the management groups have not taken formal positions on that. So we're not opposed to it and we're not supporting it.
Signal: Continuing backward, Proposition 74 makes teachers wait five years instead of two years to be tenured.
Clegg: CSBA is opposed to that, as well.
Signal: Wouldn't it make it easier for you to fire teachers?
Clegg: Well, it might make it easier to fire beginning teachers, but it's going to make it a heck of a lot harder to fire tenured teachers, and that's part of the problem that we would want to solve.
The initiative has two parts to it. The first part does extend the probationary period from two to five years. But the other thing is that it creates a new definition of "unsatisfactory performance" to be applied to tenure teachers, and it establishes that definition as a negotiable item in bargaining.
So the question that CSBA has, and raises all the time is, tell me one school district whose bargaining unit is going to agree on an "unsatisfactory performance" definition that makes it easier to fire tenured teachers. It's not. It's going to make it harder to remove tenured teachers.
The other thing that it does is, it requires two years of "unsatisfactory performance" based on that definition consecutive before you can remove the teacher. Well generally, we know human nature if you give somebody an "unsatisfactory performance" in one year, usually they can pull their act together in the next year. They would do OK and probably not get an "unsatisfactory performance." Well, that just starts the clock all over again. So where is the guarantee that it's going to make it easier to dismiss a tenured teacher?
So because there is such a disparity in that particular initiative between what is going on, we have opposed it. Assuming that it doesn't pass, CSBA is taking it upon themselves next year to get some good tenure reform legislation, put it back into the legislative process, and get it through in an intelligent way that makes sense, and is workable for both the bargaining units as well as the management units in the schools.
Signal: Are you seeing enrollment growth in Canyon Country?
Clegg: We have grown a little bit, not as fast as we think is going on, but it's an interesting phenomenon here in the Santa Clarita Valley. Housing prices have gone up so much, I don't think that new families moving in here can afford to have kids right away. They can barely afford to buy some of the houses out there.
One of the things that we have seen in the last few years is that the generation rates which the demographers use to estimate, by how many housing units are sold, how many kids you get they're not quite in sync. They have to go back and start looking at why families are not having as many kids, and not having (them) as quickly as they move here, and so the generation rates are going down.
On the other hand, the number of units that are going up in Canyon Country are still skyrocketing; in Saugus, as well.
Signal: Will you be building new schools anytime soon?
Clegg: We're going to be building Golden Valley School in the next year, an elementary school, which is over behind Golden Valley Parkway where it crosses over. And we have another one that in the planning phase out in Spring Canyon, which is past the Stonecrest development
Signal: An area the city wants to annex.
Clegg: The city wants to annex it. But we already have a mitigation agreement with Pardee, (which is) developing in that area, so when they start construction there's a school site in there.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.