Sacramento Road Trip – Paul Strickland Article
Right Here, Right Now May 17, 2007
by Paul B. Strickland Sr.
Last Monday and Tuesday I had the good fortune to be among seventy Santa Clarita Valley residents who shared a unique experience called the 2nd Annual Sacramento Road Trip. What an exciting and enlightening adventure!
Our diverse group consisted of a broad range of locals who were unified regarding the future of our great valley. Fellow bus-riders included leaders of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Industrial Association; superintendents, executives, and board members from all six school districts; City of Santa Clarita executives, including the mayor; LA County officials; water board members; and various business and community leaders.
Our mutual intent was to demonstrate to state lawmakers the need to address our local concerns. Generally, our issues involved education and transportation. Specifically, College of the Canyons representatives discussed improving college access by the expansion of their concurrent enrollment program, and infrastructure development and construction. The Wm. S. Hart Union High School District wanted to stress the need for prioritizing equalization funding, and to update transportation reimbursements for special education students. Castaic, Saugus, Newhall, and Sulphur Springs Elementary School Districts wanted to have the unfunded special education state mandates corrected to eliminate encroachment (dollars taken from the their general funds to pay for the unfunded amounts mandated by the state). The City of Santa Clarita and the Golden State Gateway Coalition were interested in a proposal to add north and southbound lanes to Interstate 5, including truck lanes.
Our hosts were Carl and Jeri Seratti Goldman from KHTS AM-1220, Don and Cheri Fleming of Valencia Acura, and Assemblyman Cameron Smyth. I cannot adequately express how impressed all of us were by this well-planned, action-packed two-day event. Carl Goldman tenaciously led every discussion group and guided our meetings in such a way that allowed time for us to clearly state our points, and also provided us significant periods of Q&A. Cameron Smyth selected a superb group of state assemblymen, state senators and executive staff members to meet with us. All participants listened and responded with a respect I have rarely witnessed.
As an elected elementary board member for 4 years, and a current second term member of the Hart District, I have been outspoken against state policy that promotes unfunded mandates. While it is important that the state have deep regard for student health and safety issues, it is equally important that those mandated laws be fully funded by the state. Currently, our district receives about 30% from the state for the costs incurred by the transportation of special education students.That percentage has not changed for twenty years. In 1983, we needed only one route to transport those kids, and now we need 23. While the number of students diagnosed as having special needs has rapidly risen, the funds provided by the state has not. The average cost for a bus equipped for special needs is approximately $92,000. The severity conditions of the children vary, including some that are medically fragile to say the least. The state demands that bus drivers, aides and other personnel take special training in various fields such as emergency medical procedures, behavior management, and potential disaster emergencies.
The money to pay for all of this has been coming out of our general fund, which thereby, impacts our ability to fund other needs. Clearly, the state needs to update the transportation formula to fund special needs transportation at current levels. Another ramification is that our district cannot afford to provide bus service for students who do not have special needs. While the city transit has been very cooperative about supporting us to solve our transportation dilemma, there are ancillary problems that develop. It is uncomfortable for parents who work numerous jobs to see their kids wait at public bus stops. ‘Tis sad but true, that Big Yellow Bus that serves as an icon of public education is no longer in use because the district cannot afford it.
Getting back to politics, because “Right Here, Right Now” is, of course, a political column, I must say that I was very impressed with Assemblyman Cameron Smyth. He was receptive to each and every issue presented by our group. There are 80 assemblymen, and it only takes 41 to pass most bills. The Republicans are definitely in the minority, but we should be thankful Cameron is our representative. He introduced his colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats. In fact, the leaders of most of our sessions were Democrats. They all genuinely like and respect Cameron. He understands that to accomplish anything in Sacramento, one must be a consensus builder. He further understands the need for bipartisanism, but he does not compromise his Republican principles. He also knows that the resolution of local issues trumps partisan politics. Yes, Mr. Smyth has definitely gone to Sacramento. We should be very, very grateful.