Daniel Landeros already has two degrees but needs a few more courses to pursue his dream of teaching political science at the college level, so he's back at Cal State Bakersfield. Whenever he's not studying, he's phone banking to encourage registered voters to support Proposition 30.
"I come from a low-income background, but I was still able to go to school, and I want to make sure that other people have the same opportunity," he said.
The ongoing phone bank and a related door-to-door campaign are organized by Faith in Action, a coalition of religious groups that organize around social causes. It's among students, teachers and education advocates across the state trying to rally votes ahead of a Nov. 6 election that has two competing public school funding initiatives up for consideration.
Backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, Proposition 30 would collect a new, temporary state sales tax for four years, and levy higher income taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year. The revenue would be shared by K-12 public schools, colleges and universities and public safety agencies.
Proposition 38 is being pushed by wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger. It would create new funding for schools through an increase in personal income tax on all but the poorest residents of the state. It is limited only to K-12 schools.
If both pass, whichever of the two measures has the most votes would become law. Proposition 38 wouldn't solve the immediate fiscal crisis but would provide some relief over the long term. Proposition 30 would stave off additional cuts, but it wouldn't add anything beyond what's already in place.
That means there's almost a cut regardless of how the election turns out, said Fruitvale School District Assistant Superintendent Matt Torres.
"We're supposed to get a cost-of-living increase every year to keep up with inflation," he said. "Food, fuel, electricity, everything is more expensive but our budgets don't reflect that. We're just barely keeping our head above water."
If neither measure passes, automatic trigger cuts will take effect midway through this school year. That's on top of the annual budget cuts that have hammered many schools since the recession.
Kern High School District -- with about 34,500 students -- says it's looking at losing $17.8 million if 30 doesn't pass. That's about $517 per student.
Kern County schools have for the most part already built additional cuts into this year's budget and projections for future years. They raided reserves if they had them, put off maintenance and repairs that weren't essential, purchased the bare minimum of equipment and supplies, and in some cases put unions on standby to renegotiate pay and benefits.
Across the region, school districts say they are being practical by planning for the worst and hoping for the best.
"We're very aware this is a significant risk," said Mary Barlow, assistant superintendent of administration, finance and accountability at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office.
The latest polls have Proposition 38 far behind and supporters and opponents of Proposition 30 neck-and-neck. Even within education circles, there isn't much consensus.
The boards of the Bakersfield City and Rosedale Union school districts have backed Proposition 30. BCSD says it will take a $12 million hit if Proposition 30 fails, which works out to $413 per pupil. Rosedale says it's looking at a cut of more than $2 million, or about $455 a student.
The KHSD board resisted pressure from activists who turned out in matching T-shirts to urge a public endorsement of Proposition 30. A member of the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District board offered a resolution, but the motion died for lack of a second. PBVUSD is, however, offering voters a $147 million bond measure that would pay for campus infrastructure and safety improvements that have been deferred.
Opponents of the propositions say tax hikes will drive business out of state and discourage job growth, and on top of that there's no guarantee they'd help schools.
"They say there are protections to make sure the money goes to education, but this is a legislature that has a history of raiding education funds for increased spending," said Mike Turnipseed, executive director of the Kern County Taxpayers Association. "It's like filling a glass of water with a hole in it. You put it in at the top and they take it out of the bottom."
Psychologist Dean Haddock is vice chair of the Kern County Republican Party and a candidate for the PBVUSD board.
Passing either measure would reward bad behavior in Sacramento, Haddock said. Rather than give a state legislature with a history of bad budgets any more money, he'd prefer to force the state into reform and real fiscal discipline, he said.
Local schools seem to have conceded defeat on Proposition 38. It's not mentioned at all in planning discussions even though the measure's supporters have posted a "Prop 38 benefits calculator" online that estimates how much money a school or district could receive if it passes. You can look up your school or district at prop38forlocalschools.org/restore.
Because the measure doesn't address higher education, neither CSUB nor Bakersfield College would gain from it. But like Kern's K-12 schools, the university and community college have built budgets that assume Proposition 30 will fail.
BC, with about 17,000 students, is staring down the unpleasant prospect of $1.2 million in cuts if Proposition 30 passes and $5.2 million in cuts if it's rejected, said spokeswoman Amber Chiang. There's no cushion to soften the blow, as this year the college is burning through the last of what was once a healthy reserve fund, she said.
That means longer waits for classes and close scrutiny to determine if degrees that aren't highly sought should be eliminated.
Brown has said that if Proposition 30 fails, the University of California and Cal State University systems will lose about $250 million each. It's possible that new student applications will be limited to only 10 CSU campuses in spring 2013: Channel Islands, Chico, Fullerton, East Bay, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Francisco and Sonoma. And even there, priority would be given to associate's degree and transfer students.
CSUB is holding off on a decision on its enrollment until after the election, said David Melendez, vice president of university advancement. If Proposition 30 passes, students will probably see a refund of some of their tuition increases, he said.
For aspiring college instructor Landeros, that's a pretty direct hit, which is why he's planning to continue phone banking down to the wire to educate voters. "A lot of people don't realize what this election means," he said.
Faith in Action community organizer Joseph Johnson said the campaigns have been a roller coaster ride.
"It's going to be interesting to see how it all plays out," he said. "It ebbs and flows, but we just keep pushing."