A parcel tax on a special May ballot is something of a deja vu moment for the San Ramon Valley school district.
Five years ago, the district needed two tries to successfully pass a parcel tax to stop what it called drastic budget cuts.
Now — with the tax expiring and state budget cuts again reducing money to schools — the district is again coming back to voters for its second attempt to renew the tax, again at a higher amount. And once again, the district is facing vocal opposition from those who say the money is not needed.
Measure C, which appears on a special mail-only May 5 ballot, would authorize an annual $144 per parcel property tax to support the San Ramon Valley school district, which includes schools in Danville, Alamo and San Ramon. The tax would start July 1, the day after the current tax expires, and it would last seven years. The measure needs two-thirds approval to pass. Seniors 65 and older would be eligible for an exemption.
District officials say the tax is necessary to make up the deficit caused by state budget cuts.
"It's probably as grim as I've ever faced in public education," said Superintendent Steven Enoch, who is in his first year and first parcel tax attempt with the district. "Even if it passes, we will still likely have to make cuts."
The tax would raise $6.7 million a year for the district, which has a $215 million budget this school year.
The district is estimating a $14 million deficit for the 2009-10 year, and hopes the tax will reduce the amount, said district spokesman Terry Koehne.
Other steps have already been taken to fill the deficit, though those plans will be revisited should the measure pass.
The district has already cut $8 million by increasing class sizes and reducing science, music, art, library and physical education services. Koehne said federal stimulus money is expected to further reduce the deficit by bringing in $2 million a year in the next two years.
Officials are also waiting to see how a package of propositions relating to the state budget in a special May 19 special election would affect its finances, though the measures — if passed — would likely help, Koehne said. The district also plans to dip into its reserves, although Measure C opponents say that money should go further.
Koehne said ballot language was written to allow flexibility so the district isn't locked into specific services should the tax pass. The day after the election, the school board will review its budget in light of the election results.
Passing a parcel tax is not easy, and the district faces the added challenge of an organized opposition.
In 2004, the district, on a second try, passed an annual $90 per parcel tax, which expires June 30. Last summer, the district tried extending that with a seven-year, $166-per-parcel tax that included possible inflationary increases. The measure ultimately lost, garnering 63.5 percent "yes" votes, but falling shy of the necessary two-thirds required for approval.
Tax opponents say the district shouldn't be so quick to pursue higher taxes to solve its budget woes.
"They've dusted off the playbook from 2004," said Mike Arata of Danville, a frequent district critic.
Arata's arguments against the tax are similar to those in previous campaigns. District spending, he said, outpaces enrollment gains and inflation. He said the district's situation is a microcosm of the financial troubles the state is facing, and that government in general should lower its spending instead of raising taxes.
"They don't need the money," Arata said. He said the additional money raised by the tax will just free up other funds for employee raises, and that eventually the economy will get better, bringing back state revenue to the schools.
"Taxpayers should not let them get away with this."
Tax critics also accuse the district of underestimating its expected enrollment growth, which in the last several years averaged more than 1,000 annually, in order to make the illusion of a deficit. Schools receive funding from the state based on the student attendance.
Ernie Scherer, a former school board member recalled in 1990 whose son is accused of killing him and his wife last year, brought similar claims to the county civil grand jury after the 2004 measure passed, but the group dropped the issue after a brief meeting with the district.
Koehne said the district estimated about 200 new students for next year, but he said if more show up it will not lead to extra money for the district because it would have to hire staff for them. He also said raises the district has given are needed to be comparable to other districts.
Arata also said the district should dip further into its reserves, but Koehne said the district does not want to spend all the money at once. The district has $6.5 million, in addition to a required 3 percent state reserve, and it is dipping into some of that money, Koehne said, but doesn't want to use it all. He also said the district does not want to use the state-required reserve because it triggers other ramifications, including outside financial oversight. Arata said the district should use the state-mandated reserve, too.
Ballots for the election have been mailed. Anyone who has not received one should call the Contra Costa County Elections Division at 925-335-7800. Ballots must be received, not postmarked, by May 5. Ballots can also be turned in from 4 to 8 p.m. May 5 at Creekside Community Church, 1350 Danville Blvd., Alamo; or the San Ramon Valley Conference Center, 3301 Crow Canyon Road, San Ramon. Ballots can also be dropped off at the division's office, 555 Escobar St., Martinez, which will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 5.
Reach Eric Louie at 925-847-2123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The measure, which appears on a mail-only ballot in a special May 5 election, would authorize a seven-year, annual $144 per parcel property tax supporting the San Ramon Valley school district starting July 1. The measure needs two-thirds approval to pass. Seniors 65 and older would be eligible for an exemption. It would be used "To help maintain academic excellence, retain qualified and experienced teachers, prepare students for college and careers for a global economy with strong math, science and literacy education," according to ballot language.
Web site in favor: www.srvprotectourschools.net/
Web site opposed: www.noonc.info/