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Parcel Tax Increase for Schools on Ballot for West County

West Contra Costa County voters will be asked in June to extend and increase the current parcel tax for public schools. The school board approved the ballot measure this month to close a deficit and avert larger class sizes.

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.

Rob February 27, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Though I am tired of paying for these measures, I feel there is no choice. Without these measures, our schools and hospitals will be in much worse shape. This is all due to a few Republicans refusing to raise any taxes. They prefer suffering to raising revenue. It's disgusting. The school district where I work, Fairfield-Suisun, can no longer get measures passed, and must close schools and programs once again next year.
John February 27, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Currently I pay between 800 and 1000 dollars in all the parcel tax measures from the past 10 years or so. While I do feel there is a need for funding, I would like to see some validation that my money is being put to good use. Both Portola and El Cerrito High are ranked below 5 in the school ranking system. When I see this I am inclined not to vote for any more partial taxes. It seems to me that every year another parcel tax is put on the ballet but the schools are not improving. I think I am finally at the point where I will start voting no.
Todd Groves February 27, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Your are right to have concern over academic performance in El Cerrito secondary schools. WCCUSD taxpayers shoulder a large burden in support of our community's children, yet few signs of growth can be seen. By voting down this measure, however, you will most certainly exacerbate the problem. I'm voting yes on this measure, and holding the institution to account for improvement. WCCUSD voters need to educate themselves on our schools and their issues. What are our biggest barriers? Instructional quality? Secondary class size? Murky vision? My direct experience tells me that we lack a widely shared vision for academic growth. As WCCUSD communities vary widely, it might be best to decentralize goal setting. Accountability is better placed in board elections. We will have opportunity to ask questions this fall. What is our academic direction? How will we get there? What are our priorities in bettering outcomes? Elect the candidates with the best answers. Don't punish the kids for adult failings by voting down this measure.
Marty February 27, 2012 at 11:15 PM
"The problem with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money." -Margaret Thatcher. The "1%" doesn't live here; it's more like the middle two quartiles supporting the bottom quartile. That is not sustainable. We are already one of the most-taxed school districts in the state, counting construction bonds and parcel taxes. And what about the money that is lost because of truancy and mishandled QEIA grants? If someone can't get junior's butt in the classroom, I should make that up? Maybe the unions and construction companies could set up a foundation to support the schools that have have profited them so well, instead of just bankrolling elections to get these tax measures passed and their favorite board members elected.
C.T. February 28, 2012 at 06:54 AM
Key words: "Avert larger class sizes". The ballot will surely just mention smaller class sizes, but the voter should ask, "Smaller than what?" At a recent budget meeting, it was said that even IF this passes, the best we can hope for is for things to remain the same. The UTR contract already has wording that allows class sizes to 31, so the district's idea of "smaller" class sizes is 28 (not the current 20 that they are mentioning in the articles).
Marguerite Meade February 28, 2012 at 07:39 AM
No.No.No.No.No More.
Sandra Davenport February 28, 2012 at 09:56 PM
you are so right. I will vote for it and i hope it passes
Sandra Davenport February 28, 2012 at 10:00 PM
for all of those who don't want to pass these kinds of measures: this is your community, folks. Maybe your kids are all grown up or maybe you've never had children. Fine. That doesn't matter. You live here, don't you? Why wouldn't you want a better academic environment for the children, who will soon be adults, in your community? the people who will be your police officers, doctors, auto mechanics, paramedics? These children in school now will be taking care of US. Let's try to give them the best that we can.
Marty February 29, 2012 at 03:07 AM
I do have kids in district schools, and I used to vote yes autoamtically for any tax that went for schools, parks, and other community-enhancement initiatives. But this school district is out of control. My tax bill must have 6 or 7 items just for schools--parcel and bond taxes--totalling over $1000. The district sells a bond measure to the voters by putting their neigborhood school on the Bond Project list that appears on the ballot--then takes it off, just because they can. And oversight? Anton Jungherr was rejected by all board members, except Antonio Madrano, to be on the Bond Oversight Committee just because he might actually want to overseee what is happening to the hundreds of millions of our tax dollars they spend on school construction. School financing needs reform, but constantly nickel and diming the local taxpayers isn't the answer.
Paul February 29, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Everyone should understand the difference between parcel taxes and bond measures. A bond measure (of which the District has several) is basically a loan used to build new buildings. This District has now replaced or renovated most of its old and aging buildings - Portola Middle School should be rebuilt within the next few years. Look around and you'll see that as a community we have wisely invested in our buildings (look at EC High and the many renovated elementary schools). Parcel taxes - the topic of this article - are used to fund educational programs. These funds pay for teachers, administrators, classroom materials, books, etc. California is now near the bottom of the heap nationwide for per-pupil spending. WCCUSD's Board is attempting to secure a reliable source of local funding - something that the State can't take away. If you are concerned about District accountability - get involved in the school board elections - find and support board members who you believe will make wise decisions. A no vote on a parcel tax - taking money away from the District and our children - will not improve the situation. I will vote yes and then do whatever I can to stay involved and ensure that our limited resources are optimized.
Paul February 29, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Marty - how exactly is the District "out of control"? This District is finally pulling itself out of bankruptcy and has almost fully paid it's debt to the State. I think of that as a pretty good accomplishment. The bankruptcy was the result of horrible management by an unqualified school Board decades ago. The take home lesson is that we, as a community, should seek out and support the best qualified Board members. Managing this large and complex District is not an easy task and our Board members must be smart and innovative. I'm not convinced that we have the brightest Board members at the moment - but I'm not going to penalize our children by cutting off funding for their educational programs. I'm also curious - you indicate that you pay over $1000 a year in school bond measures and parcel taxes... what do you believe is the "right" amount for a homeowner to pay to support the local public schools? Is $1000 too much or not enough? Most of my friends spend more than that on their cell phone service and they never think twice about it.
Giorgio C. March 01, 2012 at 03:14 AM
Marty, Someone needs to report the matter regarding Mr. Jungherr to the CC Times in the form of an editorial. This matter needs to be reviewed. One board member received many thousands of dollars during her campaign from a developer and a recent audit document stated that controls were not in place to ensure proper bidding practices.
Valerie Snider March 01, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Paul asks how our district is out of control. For starters they've siphoned off too much taxpayer money into the bond program which makes the parcel taxes a harder sell. Bond measures require 55% approval; parcel taxes a 2/3 majority - the board goes for bond measures because they're easier to pass and they need to reward their benefactors with lucrative contracts. Yes, students deserve safe and attractive schools – they also deserve teachers whose salaries are competitive with other districts. But any hope of offering competitive salaries is dashed with each new bond measure. (I hear that we can expect yet another bond measure in November – I question why $1.3 billion isn’t enough.)
Giorgio C. March 02, 2012 at 01:16 PM
These surveys are not true surveys, but instead are a lobbying mechanism for garnering support for a decision already made by the school board. Here is a document describing the survey process that was performed by the same contractor, Godbe Research. Read the "Scope of Work." http://www.sbsdk12.org/board/attachments/2011/08-23/08-23-11_attachment_E.3.pdf If you read this document, you will see that the survey process is not impartial-objective. The primary focus is to get the parcel tax on the ballot. The deck is stacked. It is not a survey, but instead a marketing strategy. The WCCUSD hired a PR-Lobbying contractor, not a true polling firm. They sought out people who would vote yes on any such parcel tax.
Giorgio C. March 03, 2012 at 02:09 PM
The teachers unions share much of the blame for the failings of our public schools. I say this as someone who supports our teachers and also believes there is a need for unions. As I say, Wall St. is organized, why can't the worker organize? When teaching at Richmond High School for 3 years, what I witnessed was gross mismanagement, but I didn't know where to point the finger because authority was not a linear chain-of-command. Principal? District? The board? The union? State? Feds? Much of the decision making about the management of the school was in the teacher contract. Does a ditch digger's union tell the employer what shovels to use and how deep the ditch shall be? Half the time I went to the assistant Principal with concerns, she said the unions would not allow implementation of my suggestions. I thought unions only negotiated wages-compensation, as is with my current union. The teacher contracts include class size. Why? Again, does the ditch digger union mention the amount of dirt that shall be dug on any given day? Teachers mean well, but have played right into the hands of management and also the citizens who will not fund education. With a clear chain-of-command, we will know who is responsible for what, including the stingy taxpayer. Then we will have true accountability. http://www.hks.harvard.edu/pepg/PDF/Papers/BetterBargain.pdf
Giorgio C. March 03, 2012 at 02:16 PM
FYI "After five consecutive years of budget cuts and the loss of one-time federal funds, the District has nowhere to turn to maintain programs and class size except for a parcel tax. At the most recent board meeting, the WCCUSD board of education voted to place an extension of the 2008 parcel tax on the June 2008 ballot. We will begin with our first campaign meeting this Saturday, and invite you to join us in this critical effort to secure the future of our schools. The WCCUSD parcel tax 2012 effort gets underway this Saturday, March 3 at Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo. The meeting begins at 7:30 AM and will be completed no later than 9:00 AM. The location for the meeting is the small auditorium that's in the hospital basement near the cafeteria -- you can get directions from the person at the desk near the main entrance to the hospital. Please join in this initial organizing effort to form the parcel tax steering committee. On Saturday, we'll be working on formulating the overall campaign plan and timeline, reviewing the survey results, honing the key messages that will increase the chances of success on June 5 and beginning the work on endorsements. Please let us know you'll be there by RSVPing to lizannsanders@gmail.com. Please RSVP by 10am on Friday, March 2. I look forward to seeing you there. Best, Liz Sanders Field Organizer, For the Children of West County lizannsanders@gmail.com
Giorgio C. March 03, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Why is the Adult Ed program part of the WCCUSD? Traditionally, these classes-programs have been part of the JC system http://www.wccae.info/PDFs/WCCAE-Fall2011.pdf
Giorgio C. March 03, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Why is Doctors Medical Center hosting the tax drive meeting?
Giorgio C. March 03, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Regarding ADA funding, the entire district is penalized by this, yes? I am against ADA funding system because even when these students are absent, teachers and administrators are spending hours of their time trying to get these students back on track, including meetings with parents. So withholding funding cannot be justified. If the ADA system must exist, then penalize the school, not the entire district. Make the school's community accountable for the actions of their own children. It takes a village, right? If a school has a high degree of absenteeism, then that school shall lose funding for athletic programs, and anything else non-essential. Let the community feel the effects of their actions (or inactions). Each community needs to take ownership of their problems because they are the only ones who can fix the problem. With the current system, there is no accountability.
Giorgio C. March 03, 2012 at 05:46 PM
If all sports programs and spirit days are eliminated at a particular school because of truancy, then peer pressure might discourage truancy. "I can't play football because you decided not to come to class" or a parent talking to another parent "My daughter cannot play soccer because your son and his friends are skipping school."
Marty March 04, 2012 at 10:43 PM
I suggested at a board meeting a year or so ago that Adult Ed be axed (they had already eliminated GATE) and 100% of available resources go to K-12. I said what you did: ESL, GED prep, etc. should be the domain of the JCs. However, to get votes for parcel measures from Hispanics, the board will keep ESL (or ELD or whatever they call it now). Every time they consider dropping it, the teachers parade a few students at board meetings to say how valuable it is. Just one more reason I won't be supporting the parcel tax. Why should I pay for some adult, who may be in this country illegally, to learn English.
Giorgio C. March 04, 2012 at 11:39 PM
If anyone needs to learn English, then they should have this opportunity at the JC. I want them to learn English. I support Adult Ed 100%, but at the JC. I benefitted greatly from the JC. I'm not sure I completely understand the "Hispanic" issue raised, but I will say I know someone from Mexico who benefitted greatly from the Contra Costa College Biotech program and is now a valuable asset in any laboratory! Is the Adult School almost self-sustaining? Does tuition come close to covering the cost of the courses or is this program mostly subsidized by the taxpayer? The WCCUSD appears to have strayed from the K-12 mission and should be called on it, but this is my not-so-well-informed opinion on this item. I'm open to learning-hearing more about this program.

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