Losing the Voice of the Southeast

February 1, 2018 by · 2 Comments 

Gregory Arroyo serves as editorial director for Bobit Business Media, a business-to-business media company founded in 1961.© Eric Tillotson www.erictillotson.com

It was nearly 20 years ago that we had our last meaningful conversation. I was offered an opportunity I had worked so hard for over the nearly two years I served as a reporter for Eastern Group Publications, and my former boss, EGP Publisher Dolores Sanchez, had a little reality to deliver to this starry-eyed reporter.

See, I was part of the team of reporters who launched the Los Angeles Times’ Montebello edition of its Our Times community news section in September 1998. Dolores, however, warned that such ventures usually have two years to succeed. I left the Montebello Our Times in August 2000, about a month before it was shuttered by the Tribune Co.

Yes, Dolores, I was listening. In fact, I always listened, especially since EGP had done for me what it had done for so many young journalists since the newspaper chain launched in 1979, and that’s give me a chance to be the voice of the Eastside. And I took the role to heart. In fact, if the phones weren’t ringing when the newspaper landed in driveways Thursday morning, I hadn’t done my job.

Yeah, I had a knack for putting myself and the newspaper in the middle of some controversy, whether it was the countless and wasteful recall elections I covered or that two-hour debate the Commerce City Council had one night over whether to serve hot dogs at a “fireside chat” event. Let’s just say there are plenty of former city, school district, and, yes, even public safety officials who were glad to see my byline fade away.

To the individuals behind the scandal that’s plagued the Montebello Unified School District in recent years, just be glad you never knew me.

In college, I asked a political science professor about whether corruption was prevalent at the highest levels of government. He said “No,” adding that it’s local government where corruption thrives due to the lack of checks and balances. And that’s why this third-generation “Montebelloan” took his role as a reporter so seriously.

But the pendulum did swing the other way. By that, I mean I was just as passionate about the good going on in the communities I served.

There was the night I was on stage inside an Olvera Street restaurant when then-Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante — the first Latino elected to statewide office in California in more than 120 years — handed the speaker’s gavel to then-California Assemblyman Antonio Villaraigosa, making him the first Speaker of the Assembly from Los Angeles in 25 years.

There was the Theodore Roosevelt High School teacher who created a program designed to help promising students gain acceptance to Ivy League schools. There was graduation day at Montebello High School, when I watched proud parents embracing their sons and daughters. And I’ll never forget consoling that senior high school football player who realized he had just played his last game.

And this is what will be missed when EGP closes its doors this week. Thank you, Dolores and Jonathan [Sanchez], for giving a community a voice and young journalists like I once was a chance to develop theirs.

 

Gregory Arroyo serves as editorial director for Bobit Business Media, a business-to-business media company founded in 1961.

Where Has All the Money for Our Schools Gone?

August 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

As fall approaches, millions of moms and dads are scrambling to prepare for the first day of school, excited to support their children’s success.

But are schools ready to receive our kids and foster that success? Increasingly, the answer is no.

In at least 18 states, local government funding levels are declining, according to an analysis by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. And as a result, many schools will open with fewer teachers than last year, among other detrimental losses.

As lawmakers throw up their hands and say, “sorry, there’s just not enough money,” we must ask: Where has all the money gone?

State and local governments give away at least $70 billion a year to business subsidies, most of it in foregone tax revenue. Local property taxes are the most significant tax most corporations pay. In most communities, they’re also the backbone of local school finance.

So when subsidies slash corporate property taxes, our schools often get hurt the most.

In Chicago, for example, we already have a glimpse into the unsavory relationship between tax subsidies and school finance. Last year, one subsidy program alone cost public services $461 million. Meanwhile, the city’s schools are facing a budget that is $140 million less than they had last year.

When cities line the pockets of powerful interests with subsidies while short-changing children, they harm everyone — including businesses that depend on a well-educated work force.

Unlike Chicago, in most cities it’s difficult to calculate exactly how much state and local tax subsidies drain from a given school district. But that’s about to change.

Starting next year, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board will require more than 50,000 government bodies to report how much tax revenue they’ve lost to economic development tax breaks given to developers and corporations.

Though school districts, library districts, and other special purpose districts seldom have a role in awarding these subsidies, they too will be required to report how much revenue they’ve lost lost—even as a result of tax breaks handed out by other governmental bodies.

This new data will also shine a light on inequities in education, allowing new critical examination of whether tax breaks that fill corporate coffers come disproportionately at the expense of the most disadvantaged school districts.

This way, we can say no to deals that pad the profits of the already wealthy at the cost of denying opportunity to those looking to get a foot on the first rung of the economic ladder.

Some states are already following the logic of this new common sense standard. In a 2011 budget deal, California decided to phase out an expensive subsidy granted by redevelopment agencies, and as a result, paved the way for local property tax revenues to rise by 10-15 percent in coming years. These added revenues will allow cities and towns throughout California to increase funding for local priorities—including schools.

Soon, we’ll all have a much better idea about where the funding for schools throughout the nation has gone. Parents and teachers clamoring for smaller class sizes and more support services will have the data to back their demands.

And taxpayers will be able to debate whether costly, long-term tax breaks that often go to the most prosperous businesses in town have been worth the cost of struggling schools.

As we look ahead to the new school year, it’s time to hold our governments and schools accountable to meet student needs. The data is coming soon that will help us get there.

 

Scott Klinger is the GASB 77 Activation Coordinator at Good Jobs First. To learn more about the GASB 77 disclosures coming next year, visit www.goodjobsfirst.org/gasb. Distributed by OtherWords.

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