FREMONT — Come November, voters will decide whether to tax themselves $53 per parcel for the next five years to help the financially ailing Fremont Unified School District.
Based on reports of 53,871 parcels in Fremont, and figuring that if 10 percent of those property owners were seniors exempt from the tax, district officials estimate that the tax could generate $12.85 million over five years.
The board has spent more than $105,500 on polling and feasibility studies since last year, and, on Wednesday they unanimously approved spending as much as $320,000 in election costs. Board members said the potential of netting millions of dollars in the long term is worth the investment.
The money generated would be protected from state raids and would help maintain core academic programs, keep school libraries open, support technology and retain teachers. None of it would go toward administrative salaries. Those 65 and older may be exempt from the tax.
Trustees initially had hoped to set a higher rate, but the consultants they hired warned against taxing voters more than $53.
"This has been hard for me to bring my expectations down, "... but going against what's been advised of us (is risky)," board President Lara York said.
The Fremont teachers union, Fremont Education Foundation and the president of the Fremont Council PTA have expressed their support for a levy, and former Councilman Gus Morrison — whose senior status would make him exempt from the tax — on Wednesday immediately handed over a check for $50 to the district. He equated the annual fee to purchasing one large cup of specialty coffee per month.
Parent Lisa Ogrey opposed the measure, saying she questioned if the district could muster the necessary two-thirds voter approval needed to pass a parcel tax.
"If it's a sure thing, I would back it. I, too, don't mind writing a check for $53," she said. "But to throw away $320,000 (on election costs) with no guarantee it will pass, that's what I have a problem with."
Voter support has not reached two-thirds majority in any of the previous surveys conducted, but the lowest tax amount that pollsters had been asked to support was $68. By lowering it to $53, Bryan Godbe, of the consultant firm Godbe Research, said, "We think there is potential support for November, and we recommend moving forward."
Part of the board's optimism that the community will support a local tax is based in part on recent actions by a grass-roots group of parents and students to raise money for the district.
On Wednesday, before the board's decision to move forward with a parcel tax, members of the Save Fremont Students campaign announced that they had raised $501,368 for local schools — enough to hire three or four additional elementary prep specialist teachers and to distribute $122,440 among secondary campuses.
The group began campaigning the first week of June to raise $4.5 million. Parents and students asked for individual and corporate donations, offering tutoring services in exchange for funds, hosting a block sale and getting businesses to donate proceeds to schools.
Despite falling far short of the overall goal, group members said they were proud of what they were able to accomplish in six weeks.
The district also has $16,785 in a donation task force fund.
Contact Linh Tat at 510-353-7010. Follow her at Twitter.com/Linh_Tat.