Jerry Brown is calling on Californians to come together to resolve the state's deepening budget crisis, but he got a heavy dose of how difficult that will be at the forum he hosted in Los Angeles focused on education financing.
Although their tone was conciliatory, school superintendents and union leaders reminded Brown, over and over again, of all the ways K-12 schools have borne the brunt of the budget cuts over the past three years, and presented ominous scenarios should they be cut any further.
Joel Shapiro, South Pasadena superintendent of schools, asked Brown to be courageous in defending what remains of school budgets, "because there are no other ways for us to make additional cuts in education."
CTA President David Sanchez said "we understand we have to make some hard choices." At the same time, he pointed to the sacrifices teachers have already made, like the 30,000 teachers laid off over the past two years and the unpaid furlough days teachers in many remaining districts have agreed to protect against even bigger layoffs.
Michael Hulsizer representing the Kern County Office of Education said he knew Brown would be "fair and honest, that is all we ask." At the same time he said that he hoped his budget director would point out to other claimants on the state's general fund the high percentage of cuts K-14 education has already endured.
Incoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, not even sworn into office, presented a bleak portrait of public education in the state, without giving any hint of how K-12 schools could contribute to a resolution of the state's budget crisis.
Brown, in turn, tried mightily to present an image of a big California tent, under which all interest groups and constituencies should come together to reach a common solution.
What we have is a very grumpy set of claimants. It is my job as governor to make sure we don't focus on one part of the equation.
He also said that all key constituencies should focus on one issue: how to deal with the state's depleted treasury:
I hope people won't want to pass all those bills, they are all nice, but there is only one big challenge facing California, and that is how we pay our bills and how we keep this society together going forward.
He said that "until we wrestle this bear to the ground" he is not interested in other initiatives in Sacramento. "We have to deal with the imbalance between revenue and spending, and that is what we need to do."
At times Brown sounded irritated at the unabashed lobbying of public educators at the forum, seeming to ignore his pleas that "we are all in this together," and his reminders of all the other constituencies, like higher education, the criminal justice system, and business, that will also be at the table as decisions are made on how to "carve up scarce funds."
But in general, he was far more loquacious, even relaxed, than he was at the first gathering he convened in Sacramento last week with state legislators. He was perhaps savoring his last two weeks without the full weight of California's fiscal problems squarely on his shoulders. "I thought long and hard before I ran for this job," he said. "I knew it was pretty bad, but I didn't know it was this bad."
And that's before he hears from every other California constituency laying claim to a share of the state's diminished revenues.