Faced with shrinking state support and crammed classrooms, the West Contra Costa Unified School district is asking voters to extend and increase the current parcel tax for schools.
The current tax, first adopted by voters in 2004 and renewed with 79-percent voter approval in 2008, is 7.2 cents per square foot of building area and is due to expire June 30, 2014. The new tax would be increased to 10 cents a square foot, effective July 1 this year and last five years.
The election will be held June 5. Two-thirds' approval is required for passage.
The school board voted unanimously at its Feb. 15 meeting to place the measure before voters, and the school district subsequently mailed an eight-page, large-format, English-Spanish brochure to residents making its case for the increase.
"The need for local funding for our schools is greater now than ever," says a school board message in the brochure. "Our proposed parcel tax reauthorization and increase on the June ballot is intended to meet that need." (A copy of the brochure is attached.)
Another was approved this month by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. Sent as a mail ballot to the county's property owners, it asks for approval of an annual per parcel fee ranging between $6 and $22, depending on location and size of parcel.
The reasons for seeking the increased parcel tax for schools on the upcoming June ballot include reducing class sizes in high school and middle school and maintaining lower class sizes in grades K-2, according to the board resolution for the ballot measure. (A copy of the staff report, resolution and ballot measure are attached to this article.)
"if the parcel tax doesn't pass, class-size reduction is gone," board President Charles Ramsey said, according to the Contra Costa Times.
Ramsey said that if voters reject the tax, the district would be obliged to increase K-2 class size to 28-to-1, up from the current kindergarten ratio of 24-to-1 and first and second grade ratio of 20-to-1, the newspaper reported.
Since 2008, the state has "dramatically reduced funding for K-12 education," according to the staff report from Superintendent Bruce Harter to the board. "By statute the per pupil revenue limit for 2012-13 should be $6,742 but due to the financial crisis and the Legislature's inability to fund public education in California, West Contra Costa Unified School District will receive only $4,911. The total loss of revenue to WCCUSD is more than $40 million."
The current parcel tax brings in $9.6 million annually for the district, Harter said. The increased tax would boost the total to $13.6 million a year, he said.
A survey by Godbe Research showed that voters would be willing to support the measure, according to Harter's report. The board authorized the survey in September and the results were given to the board in November, he noted.
In addition to smaller class sizes, other purposes identified in the measure include: maintaining core programs in reading, writing, math and science; retaining quality teachers; supporting libraries; improving campus safety; and preparing students for college and the workforce.
The district has already endured significant cuts, while the federal funding that buffered some of the sacrifice in this year's budget is no longer available, Harter said in his report.
"The Board has demonstrated financial stewardship in making expenditure reductions including closing schools, capping employee health benefits, requiring employees to take furlough days, raising class sizes, and reducing or eliminating many programs that had served the students of the District," he said. "In adopting a budget for 2011-12, the Board used several one-time funding sources such as the Federal Stimulus money to keep essential programs and services. Yet, the district faces a deficit of $4.7 million for 2012-13 as well as the loss of one-time federal stimulus funds."
An earlier parcel tax ballot measure for schools in West Contra Costa County, Measure M, was defeated in November 2010. Though the measure received more than 60 percent of the vote, it failed to secure the necessary two-thirds. It would have imposed an additional 7.2 cents per square foot of building space.
West Contra Costa voters approved a different parcel tax measure this past November, Measure J, to save Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo. That measure, which takes effect in July, adds $47 a year for each homeowner, on top of an existing $52 annual parcel tax approved by voters in 2004. Apartment building owners, business owners and industrial property owners will pay from $282 to $940 per parcel per year, depending on parcel size.