The Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who helped finance a doomed, $23 million campaign to make it easier for California’s districts to raise money for facilities are hitting the pavement for better school buildings again—this time with the help of Gov. Gray Davis.
In an effort to place a measure similar to the failed Proposition 26 on the ballot next November, some state business groups and prominent technology executives are working to collect 1 million signatures by May 7. Proposition 26, which voters narrowly rejected in a statewide election March 7, would have lowered the percentage of votes required to pass local bonds from two-thirds to a simple majority. (“Mixed Results on Ballot Questions,” March 15, 2000.) The new initiative would change the threshold to 55 percent.
California is one of only four states that require a two-thirds vote for local bonds, and proponents of the new initiative have long contended that the supermajority requirement has hamstrung districts’ ability to pay for the schools they desperately need.
“If our quality of education can’t be what others provide, businesses will go elsewhere,” said Burt McChesney, the executive director of California Business for Education Excellence, a coalition of business groups working to qualify the new initiative for the November ballot.
Gov. Davis, a Democrat, decided to back the new initiative only after the business leaders supporting it agreed to the higher percentage of voters, said Michael Bustamante, a spokesman for the governor.
“The governor felt very strongly that it had to be a new vehicle, and that it had to have a higher threshold than the 50 percent put before voters in March,” Mr. Bustamante said.
As a co- chairman of the campaign, Mr. Davis will likely play a more prominent role in campaigning for the retooled initiative than he did for Proposition 26.
Following the failure of the measure by only 150,000 votes out of 6.5 million cast, Mr. Davis was blasted by the California Teachers Association for what the union called his failure to follow through on a pledge to campaign for the proposal. The CTA, an affiliate of the National Education Association, contributed considerable time and money to the Proposition 26 campaign.
Mr. Bustamante defended the governor’s involvement in Proposition 26.
“People are always looking for scapegoats, but the campaign was run and lost, and the governor certainly did what he could do to help,” Mr. Bustamante said.
Barbara E. Kerr, the vice president of the CTA, said the union’s war of words with Mr. Davis was over. “I know he does support school facilities, so we have to go forward at this point,” she added.
Kris Vosburgh, the executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said his advocacy group would oppose the revised initiative aggressively, just as it did Proposition 26.
“We’re going to call it the Gray Davis tax increase,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the April 19, 2000 edition of Education Week as Calif. Governor Backs New Effort To Ease Approval of School Bonds