By John Fensterwald | The Educated Guess
June 14th, 2010 -- This was not your typical after-dinner acceptance speech by a corporate honoree.
On receiving the Silicon Valley Education Foundation’s annual Pioneer Business Leader Award last week, Symantec Corp. Board Chairman John Thompson called for reforming Proposition 13 to provide more money for public schools.
“No one wakes up every morning and says, ‘I want to pay more taxes,’” Thompson told 600 people at the Foundation’s annual dinner in San Jose. But the insufficient funding of schools is a “core issue” that needs to be dealt with.
Proposition 13 limits taxes on real estate to 1 percent of a property’s assessed value. Because commercial property owners have found ways to sell their properties without triggering reassessment, there have been repeated calls recently for either raising the tax rates on business properties or assessing them regularly. AB 2492, by San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano would do the latter, under some conditions.
However, in his brief speech and in an interview the next day, Thompson said he is not advocating any specific changes to Prop 13. Instead, he advocates a general review of its impact and eventually a voter initiative to revise it.
Thompson is certainly not alone in attributing a gradual erosion of financial support to K-12 schools and state colleges and universities to the restrictions on property taxes by passage of Prop 13 in 1978. However, he is one of few business leaders to call for changing it. In my interview with him, Thompson also called for changing the requirement for a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to pass the state budget.
But Thompson also said that any additional money for schools must be accompanied by school reforms. To do one without the other would be “a waste.” Reform, he said, means “creating measurable, definable goals for students, teachers, administrators – everyone must have set of goals that can be well-established and well-rewarded when they are achieved.”
“Most importantly,” he said, “there must be punishment in this system for those who don’t contribute to the effort. We cannot afford to reward mediocrity.”
During his decade as CEO of Symantec, based in Mountain View, sales of the security software company grew from $632 million to $6.2 billion, and its workforce grew to 17,000. Thompson also served on the national board of Teach For America.
Calling the state’s high school graduation rate “appalling,” Thompson, 60, the son of a postal worker and elementary school teacher, said, “Every child deserves a right to a good education, and every child in this country ought to have a chance in life just like the one I had.”
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