The road trip brings over 70 community members, business leaders and public officials up to Sacramento for an intense 24 hours of meetings with policy makers. The meetings are all scheduled by Assemblyman Smyth’s office and allow the entire group to speak with one voice on issues important to life in the Santa Clarita Valley.
This year, pressing concerns about education funding were pointed directly at legislative leaders. The state of California funds education and currently places 50 mandates of varying purpose on local schools. With the State budget crisis deepening, and one-time federal help disappearing, all local school Districts have been forced to shorten the school year, cut administrative staff and issue potential layoff notices to teachers. Most recently, the Hart District has decided to cut 8th grade promotion ceremonies to save money, much to the chagrin of local parents.
The problem isn’t only vanishing funding. The structure of how the State allocates funding was called into question by local leaders. Many school districts receive more money per pupil than our local districts do, and the State has a tendency to not fully compensate districts for mandates they have imposed. Furthermore, school districts are held to strict deadlines for submitting their yearly budget. Those deadlines are in May, which often falls long before the State actually passes their completed budget. That uncertainty makes it difficult for districts to do anything more than estimate their coming year’s allocations.
For the most part, the legislators the group met with Monday and Tuesday were sympathetic, although they reported that short of a complete overhaul of the system, problems would continue. The group discussed education funding with our Assemblyman Cameron Smyth and our State Senators George Runner and Tony Strickland. Republican State Senator Bob Huff, who serves as the vice chair of the Senate Education Committee also met with the group.
Senator George Runner strongly advocated his position that complete control should be given back to the local governance boards. That, he said would make each school district in charge of their own destiny and therefore able to better conduct their operations.
The other major issue that garnered a lot of attention was the future of water availability.
Currently, Santa Clarita gets between 50 and 60 percent of its water from northern California. This water is pumped from an area called the Delta, however, recent environmental concerns have prompted a federal judge to effectively halt the Delta’s pumping operations. The result has been a major shortage in water for Southern California communities. Castaic Lake Water Agency, which is responsible for collecting and locally dispersing all water that comes from the State, has a lot of water stored for draught years, however a larger problem looms. The environmental issues at the Delta have forced an overall acceptance that the delivery system for State water is old and cannot be repaired to a point in which it does not impact the environment negatively. After years of discussion, the Legislature passed a major water package last year, which includes an $11 billion General Obligation Bond to help create more water storage solutions and to help repair the water delivery system. The bond will be on the ballot in November.
Speaking to the group about this issue were Association of California Water Agencies Legislative Director Ron Davis and Aracely Campa, who is the lead consultant on water to Assembly member Anna Caballero. Caballero authored the water package last year.
The 2010 road trip also focused on Domestic Violence funding, a project to add carpool and truck lanes along the I-5 through the Newhall Pass, and the new redistricting process that will occur in the state. During dinner Monday night at the Firehouse Restaurant, the group heard from State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who is also running for Governor on the Republican ticket. He outlined his plan to bring California back to prosperity through a series of specific tax cuts, as well as his preference of a two-year state budget and part time legislature. He too believed that local school districts should have more control of their money, an issue he said he become personally involved with during a one year stint as a volunteer high school teacher.
More information about this year’s Sacramento Road Trip will be detailed in the coming weeks in the Road Trip Portal, which you can view by clicking here.