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Voters Pondering Competing Tax Measures

Forum will help differentiate school tax propositions --- Brown's 30 and Munger's 38.

With Pasadena schools facing nearly $18 million in budget cuts over the next 18 months, the public education faithful agree that voters must approve a tax increase in November to avoid catastrophe.

But whether to support Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 or Pasadena attorney Molly Munger's Proposition 38 is another question.

Brown's initiative, backed by teachers unions, would increase the state sales tax and income taxes on top wage earners for seven years to keep education funding at its current level. The revenue also would be used to shore up public safety and higher education budgets and pay down some of California's deficit.

Munger's measure, supported by parent-teacher associations, would raise up to $10 billion a year for K-12 schools for 12 years through a sliding-scale income tax of as little as $7 on those making less than $25,000 per year to as much as $77,000 on those earning more than $1 million. Money would go directly to schools, bypassing the state's general fund.

If Brown's plan wins, Pasadena Unified School District officials would still have to trim $10 million from their budget next year, said spokesman Adam Wolfson. Munger's measure would bring in about $19 million for Pasadena schools next year, but it wouldn't take effect in time to hold off a $5-million cut this year.

To help voters do the math, the Pasadena Education Network is hosting a forum on Thursday featuring advocates for each measure and those backing both.

“Many who don't have kids in public schools will vote no on both, and my biggest fear is that if some of us vote for 30 and some vote for 38, neither is going to pass,” said San Rafael Elementary School PTA President Michelle Calva-Despard. “If we lose this because of a split, that's going to be a real shame.”

During a Sept. 27 PTA event at Eliot Middle School, Munger said she embraced support from voters hedging their bets, but said she also needs 38-only supporters to triumph.

Munger said she will not vote for Brown's measure because school funding has sunk too low to remain flat.

“What you do when you're not giving people anything is threaten to hurt them even worse. Basically, that's the [Brown] plan,” said Munger. “It hurts schools by pretending to help schools when it doesn't.”

United Teachers of Pasadena President Alvin Nash said several teachers have asked him whether they should support both measures.

“We tell teachers, ‘You have to decide for yourself,'” said Nash. But, “If 38 gets more votes, it wouldn't stop the midyear cuts, shortening the school year and bringing additional layoffs in March.”

Marna Cornell, president of the League of Women Voters – Pasadena Area and a retired Los Angeles teacher, said she understands the appeal of Munger's plan, but also why the league backs Proposition 30.

“Education is being starved, but we want to see other programs protected as well as education,” she said.

Munger, a 1966 graduate of John Muir High School, recalled serving as a volunteer teacher there in the mid-1990s and finding students lacked access to basic instructional materials and programs.

“Already by then, almost 20 years ago, I couldn't believe what had been lost,” said Munger, daughter of Berkshire-Hathaway billionaire Charles Munger. She has put about $27 million of her own money into the Proposition 38 campaign.

Calva-Despard said the parent-driven group Educate Our State convinced her to support both 30 and 38.

“Instead of taking care of children, we're arguing like children,” she said. “It took a group of mommies to step in and say if neither of these pass, then everybody loses.”

Pasadena Education Network's “Educating the Education Voter” forum takes place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at All Saints Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena.

Pasedena Sun

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