Panelists present budget possibilities and concerns for the 79th district
Shirley Weber, assembly member for the 79th district, hosted a town hall meeting in Chula Vista June 8. Although the meeting was organized around the question "What are your priorities for San Diego?", the format concentrated on panel presentations rather than community input.
The majority of the panelists expressed guarded optimism for the California budget that will be voted on in the next few days.
Dr. Brian Sala, Acting Director for the California Research Bureau, presented the overview. Sala indicated that money from Proposition 30 "offered new flexibility," but he also said that there were real concerns about the new money that was coming in because the state "was highly reliant on high-income earners."
The K-12 Education Panel consisted of Matt Yagyagan, Project Manager for Alliance San Diego and Albert Alt, CFO, for Sweetwater Union High School District. Alt said the May revise budget will "result in $5 million to restore programs and services that have been cut."
The district, according to Alt, is enthused about the governor's new local control funding concept, which will allow some categorical funds to be spent in a more discretionary way by districts. Alt said local control enables Sweetwater to spend funding on "their own unique priorities."
The local funding proposal, aside from loosening control of some categorical funding, will give additional money to districts with students struggling with language acquisition and students who receive free or reduced lunches.
The additional money is geared toward closing the achievement gap for students in the California school system. Sala said there will be checks and balances to make sure districts target student needs appropriately. County boards of education will provide one of those checks.
Along with Sala, Southwestern college trustee Norma Hernandez represented higher education on the next panel. Hernandez reported "good news" for the district. She said the college will be receiving additional revenue and is offering a robust summer program and able to restore some of the 5% salary cut employees suffered in 2011. Additionally, the district will hire 8 full-time professors in the fall.
Hernandez also said that educational access will be increased for all community college online students in the state through a common portal that will enable them to take any courses offered by community colleges.
Sala emphasized that in terms of higher education "CTE [Career Technical Education/Regional Ocupation Program] is critical in the state of California."
A Health and Human Services panel was presented by Barbara Jimenez, from the San Diego County Health and Human Services and Sara Steinhoffer, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for Sharp Hospital. Both panelists reflected a host of concerns in the face of potential cuts in the new budget.
Jimenez discussed the possibility of having to close Edgemoor, a facility that houses vulnerable adults. She also discussed the difficult of managing tuberculosis with decreased funding, and the possibility of having to close public health centers, including one in the South Bay.
Steinhoffer addressed the need for re-introducing dental benefits for vulnerable populations. she also highlighted the need for more investment in mental health care. She cited data from the Center for Disease Control to support her concern. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in the United States--the second leading cause is suicide.
The last panelists were Maria Kachadoorian, Director of Finance in Chula Vista and Cindy Gomper-Graves, President and CEO of the South County Economic Development Council.
Kachadoorian said the city's finances have improved so much that their bond rating has been favorably upgraded. She also mentioned that the city is building "another small city in the eastern area."
And finally, Gomper-Graves articulated the connection between enterprise zones and the creation of employment.