Students Get in Act to Promote Prop. 98

Times Education Writer

The job San Gabriel High School student Shaun Chang landed this summer definitely beats slinging hamburgers at the local fast-food joint.

Chang and six other high school and college students from Los Angeles and Orange county schools spent Monday in a Burbank studio helping to film one of 11 television commercials that will be aired this fall in support of Proposition 98, the November ballot initiative that would guarantee public schools a stable base of state funding. The students each will earn about $500.

The $2-million television campaign using 11 student crews from across the state was conceived by veteran Sacramento political consultant Richard Ross as a way to make the complex school funding initiative stand out from the crowd of 29 statewide ballot measures facing voters this fall.

“These spots will not have the slick professional look that political consultants would bring,” said Marc Grossman, a spokesman for the Proposition 98 campaign. The initiative backers--which include state school chief Bill Honig, the California PTA and the California Teachers Assn.--are banking on the low-gloss, homespun look of the commercials to grab voters’ attention and sympathy.


Grossman said the ballot measure, called the School Funding for Instructional Improvement and Accountability Initiative, would guarantee kindergarten-through-12th-grade schools and community colleges at least 36.28% of the state general fund--the same level of funding as they received in 1986-87. The idea is to end the kind of year-to-year fluctuations in funding that make it difficult for schools to plan their budgets.

The initiative also provides that schools would receive a portion of any future state budget surpluses, up to a maximum of 4% of the year’s kindergarten-through-12th-grade budget. The formula would be suspended in the event of a state budget crisis or when the state school superintendent and the state finance director mutually determine that California has caught up to the per-pupil spending levels of the top 10 states.

In the hot, cramped Gosch Productions studio in Burbank on Monday, the student crew, led by USC film maker Richard Boyle, set up a mock laboratory filled with racks of test tubes, fossils, a microscope and other paraphernalia.

When student director Cindy Mueller, a recent El Toro High School graduate, called for action, the camera panned behind a row of steaming beakers until it came to rest on four children conducting an experiment.


The young actors--all students in public schools in Southern California--reeled back in mock horror when the experiment resulted in a minor explosion. When special effects are added to the commercial later, they and their surroundings will take on a surreal glow--and their expressions will change to delight and wonderment--as a voice-over makes the pitch.

‘Formula for Success’

“It will be something like, ‘The formula for success is Proposition 98,’ ” said Boyle, whose screen credits include co-writing the screenplay for last year’s Oscar-nominated film, “Salvador.” “It’s going to be pretty wild.”

Some of the other student-produced commercials portray conditions in public schools that the proposition is intended to remedy, such as classroom crowding. One spot, for example, features students from the future who blast back in time to 1988 and are appalled to see how students are “packed like sardines” in classrooms because of insufficient money to build schools.

The initiative is opposed by Gov. George Deukmejian; Richard P. Simpson, the executive vice president of California Taxpayers Assn.; and George Christopher, chairman of the governor’s California Commission on Educational Quality. According to the ballot argument they signed against the proposition, the initiative would adversely affect funding of other critical state services and could lead to a tax increase.