School Funding Suit: ‘Death by a thousand cuts’
Some 200 people packed the Lum Elementary School cafeteria on February 8, 2007, hoping to find a solution to the Alameda Unified School District’s seemingly permanent budget crisis.
The school district was in its sixth consecutive year of budget reductions, and administrators had readied a fresh list of cuts for a seventh. Just 20 months earlier, parents had succeeded in persuading voters to increase the district’s existing parcel tax by more than 50 percent. But it had not been enough to cover growing costs and an ongoing loss of state funding, which for Alameda was already less than what surrounding districts received.
Bill Koski, an education scholar and one of the attorneys handling the case, is confident he’ll prevail in court. He said Alameda – with its small administrative office, diverse student population and test scores that exceed state standards – offered attorneys a prime example of a school district run as well as the state’s dysfunctional funding system allows.
“Alameda is a poster child of a district working very hard for limited resources and doing the best that it can, but not being able to provide the services it knows it should,” Koski said.
Siltanen and Casper found they had lots of company in their quest to determine whether suing the state was the best path to fixing California’s school finance system. Koski, for one, had tired of winning court victories that the poor school districts he was fighting lacked the money to fulfill.
Siltanen and Casper had provided a second report to Alameda’s school board in February 2008, saying they were working to secure free representation from a leading law firm. Koski said the suit finally coalesced in the six months before it was filed.