Baker, Glazer discuss education issues at joint forum

San Ramon event covers topics from UC system enrollment to district rainy day funds

The Tri-Valley's state legislators held an education forum this week to answer residents' burning questions about overcrowding at schools, Common Core and other frustrations.

State Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) and Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-San Ramon) held a joint town hall-style meeting Monday night to discuss education issues with their constituents, garnering a crowd of about 100 people at a San Ramon community center.

Bipartisanship was a strong theme of the education forum, and both legislators shared the audiences' frustrations that education policy appears to be undermined by a political tug-of-war.

"We don't see Republican and Democratic solutions," Glazer told the crowd before a question-and-answer session.

Both legislatures are relatively new to state government.

Baker, whose Assembly District 16 reaches from Walnut Creek to Livermore and includes the San Ramon Valley, took her post in the State Assembly last December. Glazer -- who represents District 7, which spans from Pleasanton to Orinda to Oakley, including the San Ramon Valley -- assumed office in May.

Both have spent their brief tenure emphasizing bipartisan solutions to issues, as well as using their posts to push for more local control over fiscal issues.

"It's very unusual, a Democrat supporting a Republican. A Republican supporting a Democrat," Glazer lamented. "There is no center anymore. Everyone is afraid to use that center because you lose."

Baker and Glazer emphasized their current education priorities, including pushing for the passing of a bill that would remove or reduce the cap on public school districts' reserves. Current law essentially limits districts' rainy day funds to about 6% of a district's total budget, and Baker and Glazer have introduced bills -- AB 1048 and SB 799 -- to increase the cap up to 17% or repeal the cap altogether.

Also on their radar are concerns about the Cal State and UC systems' budgets, grumblings related to those colleges' reliance on out-of-state students, a decrease in state funding for local school districts, a need for more opportunities for teacher and administrator training and the two lawmakers' concerns about the removal of the California High School Exit Exam.

Baker and Glazer said many of these issues could be remediated by handing control of the issue over to local school districts, rather than relying on state legislation.

Residents from the Tri-Valley and beyond, including some elected school officials, asked the legislators about how the state government can help solve issues affecting their students and children.

Some of those concerns included a lack of informational materials and training opportunities for educators prior to the roll-out of Common Core, a need for more school infrastructure as the Tri-Valley outgrows its current resources and a concern that the per-pupil funding for school districts is far too low compared to other states.

"We're stuck," one audience member said. "We have a desire to build more homes, new schools, and how are we going to fund it?"

He noted some Dublin schools, including Fallon Middle School, have been adding portables because the campuses are over their intended capacity.

Glazer said school funding was once a three-legged stool, where the state, district and developers would pay in equal parts to the equation. Now, he said, state funding has decreased.

He and Baker said they're hoping a ballot measure will pass in November to secure a $9 billion bond for construction projects at California schools to help alleviate these pressures.

After one audience member brought up a point about encouraging volunteerism within public school classrooms, Baker noted that local districts should also encourage partnerships with nearby companies and agencies.

"We live in an area of incredible STEM resources. Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Sandia Lab, Silicon Valley," she said, adding all of these can be leveraged as resources for students' enrichment in and out of the classroom.

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