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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.

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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