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Wolk walks the walk
State senator says no to per diem; shares thoughts on budget crisis with students
The fifth graders responsible for getting Senator Lois Wolk to visit Manteca - Jasmyne Moreno, left, and Briana Tinoco – ask the senator their questions. - photo by HIME ROMERO
State Sen. Lois Wolk considers herself frugal.

Unlike some of her colleagues, she doesn’t accept a per diem – that’s an allowance of $36,000 annually given to elected officials for their living arrangements – and made the trip to Manteca’s George McParland School riding in her own GMC van on Friday.

“(Per diem) is for those who live far away from the state capital,” Wolk said. “I’m only 30 minutes away so I don’t need it.

“But I think right now we should all tighten our belts.”

Standing in front of a class room with students, parents, administrators, Manteca Unified district officials, and classified employees, she appeared quite comfortable back in her element.

“I’m a former teacher,” said Wolk. “I miss it – once a teacher, always a teacher.”

Her visit on short notice was initiated by the efforts of Jasmyne Moreno, 10, and Briana Tinoco, 11. About a week ago, the two students in Elizabeth Bruns’ fifth-grade class posted flyers on some 200 cars in the Manteca Target Store parking lot regarding the long overdue state budget.

The  two girls were concerned over trickled down effect resulting in over $23 million in reductions at Manteca Unified, including class size reduction.

Wolk, representing the Fifth Senate District – included is Tracy, Manteca and Stockton in San Joaquin County; Suisun City, Fairfield, Dixon and Vacaville in Solano County; Davis, West Sacramento, Winters and Woodland in Yolo County; and Walnut Grove and a portion of Elk Grove in Sacramento County – favors flexibility in state funding for school districts.

Take class size reduction.

“Not everyone agrees with 25-to-1 (students to teacher ratio),” she said.

Class size at Manteca Unified is 20-to-1, applying mostly to kindergarten- through- third-grade students. Locally, cuts in this area could potentially amount to 116 teaching jobs in the long haul.

“For some school districts, class size reduction is the Holy Grail,” said Wolk.

A two-thirds approval from both legislative houses is required to pass the state budget. She added that California remains one of three states not going with the majority votes or “50 percent plus one.”

Briana Tinoco had a chance to ask her elected official the reasons for so many cuts, particularly, to education.

“It’s not just schools but it hurts older people and families in need of child care and preschool,” Wolk said.

And while most of his friends were enjoying time away the classroom thanks to the in-service day, Diego Perez, an eighth-grade leadership student, came dressed for the occasion in suit and tie.

He asked Wolk about President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package earmarked for education.

“It’ll happen quickly,” she said,

The stimulus package has received the OK from the House of Representatives but is still in need of tweaking from Senate.

Wolk said Manteca Unified would get $5 million in federal funding, but with some strings attached. The money could only be used for Title 1, construction, and special education, and not the general fund.

“I spent time looking into it,” Perez said. “But I really came here concerned as to how (the budget cuts) will affect the future of my peers.”

Wolk’s visit to McParland was scheduled for a half hour. But she managed to sway from her busy day by a few extra minutes in order to respond to everyone’s questions.