A very energetic Tom Torlakson greeted a group of leading supporters of local education inside the library at Mountain View High School at 7:30 a.m. Thursday.
"Are you revved up? Cranked up for the day?" said Torlakson, California's 27th State Superintendent of Public Instruction, encouraging the quiet, and perhaps still a bit sleepy group of administrators, trustees and Leadership Circle supporters, among the most generous to districts. He ilicited a few chuckles and 'yeses.'
Torlakson's visit came at the behest of Barry Groves, superintendent of the (MVLA), who wanted to show off a district he thought "exemplified what they seek in the state."
The event was cosponsored by the three education foundations of Los Altos and Mountain View—the Los Altos Educational Association the Mountain View Educational Foundation and the Mountain View Los Altos High School Foundation (LAEF, MVEF, and MVLA).
"Superintendent Torlakson's visit highlighted the impotant role that our local education foundations play in strengthening our community by investing in our public schools," said Kristine Bardman, LAEF Co-President 2012-13
While MVLA may serve as an example to some of the other school districts, Torlakson's visit made one thing clear—they all share the challenge of the present and potentially future budgets cuts.
"What are the themes that are going to captivate the imagination and engender the willingness of people to tax themselves more in a tough economy," Torlakson asked, in response to a question about how to generate more funds for public schools, since many families have lost a lot of money during the recession.
"It's tough out there, but I believe this state is great; it's resilient; our people have said yes to the future in the past."
Elected to a four-year term as in November 2, 2010, Torlakson is tasked with the improvement of the state’s public education system, which as of the 2009-10 school year had 1,032 school districts, with 10,152 schools and approximately 6,189,908 students.
Despite Torlakson's best intentions, K-12 education has lost 25 percent of funding statewide with an additional 10 percent projected "if things don't work out in November," he said, referring to to a tax levy proposed by Governor Jerry Brown.
That's more cuts to public schools in the last four years than during the great depresson, Torlakson explained, which poses a challenge to his initiative "Blueprint for Great Public Schools."
To overcome some of those hurdles, Torlakson hopes voters approve a statewide $9 billion bond measure in 2014. His appeal targets the residents in the Silicon Valley communities of Los Altos and Mountain View, many who voted for one or both recent bond measures , the , and Los Altos School District. According to the organization, EdSource, in recent years more communities have approved these types of bond measures.
It's a tough sell, Torlakson acknowledged, since 70 percent of Californians don't have children in the public school system. In Mountain View, according to Liza Levin, president of the , that number rises to 90 percent.
"That's why I'm around the state...really working hard trying to get the message out that the ballot measure needs to have attached to it some goals, but it doesn't," he said, and referred to the blueprint's academic and infrastructure suggestions. "I'm confident that given the money and the trust of the voters, we'll spend the money wisely."
After the event, members of the crowd weighed in.
"The author Jonathon Kozol said something like, 'We still haven't really done public education well so you can't say it failed,'" said Mary Healy, of Los Altos, who said she felt optimistic about the future of education in the state. She's inspired to talk to the non-parents to get them onboard.
"I'm glad he came," she said.