Months of campaigning came to an end Tuesday night as supporters of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District's Measure C parcel tax initiative pulled in more than 72.5 percent of the ballots giving a go-ahead to the funding measure. Polls closed at 8 p.m., and by 8:30 p.m. Contra Costa County Election officials had called the race with 28,494 Yes votes and 10,777 No votes.
Proponents of Measure C gathered to watch the returns at the Bridges Country Club. More than 200 people were on hand as the precincts were quickly counted and the lead held by the pro-C forces steadily grew until the final result was announced and the room burst out into ecstatic applause.
"It was a big celebration," a smiling SRVUSD Superintendent Steve Enoch said. "There were cheers and there were tears. It was a wonderful moment." Enoch said that he has been through a number of similar votes during his time in education but the victory Tuesday was one of the sweetest. "This may be a highlight in my career," he said.
The ballot measure approved will charge each residence within the San Ramon Valley Unified School District $144 per year. It replaces the current $90 per year parcel tax that expires June 30. Officials said the new tax will bring in an estimated $7 million per year to the district. It is set to expire in seven years. The funds are expected to help offset an estimated $16 million in cuts in state funding for education.
One of the leaders of the Measure C movement was school board member Rachel Hurd. Elated over the victory, she attributed the win to the campaign run by proponents and community-wide effort to see the issue pass.
"From start to finish we ran a good campaign. We set a goal that our advisors indicated would work, we staffed a team, and this time people really stepped up," she said, adding, "Overall it was an engaged group of hundreds of people, the enthusiasm was there, and we pulled it off."
Last year, the district placed a similar initiative, Measure D, on the ballot, which failed by only 2 percent. In the May 5 election, the Yes votes went up by over 8 percent. Hurd said what she thinks helped to make the difference was the level of volunteer involvement. "Last year's volunteer effort was a little thin. This time, we had more people involved and they were engaged."
Opponents of the ballot initiative were out during the day Tuesday, keeping a watchful eye on the two ballot drop-off locations. The most vocal opponent was Mike Arata. Arata said that while he did see some things at the drop-offs that he felt were questionable, the number of ballots involved would not have affected the outcome.
"The difference is far too large for any challenge," he explained. He said that the final result did not come as a shock. "I'm disappointed but I'm not surprised. The district and the Measure C tax promoters employed their customary tactics."
Arata added, "I wish more people paid attention to school district finances. To them this is a small enough amount that they wouldn't want to spend more time on it."
While the victory Tuesday is a vital component to the district's plans to maintain funding of teachers and programs, proponents are also keeping a wary eye on the next piece of the funding puzzle. Rachel Hurd said that the school board is meeting Wednesday to discuss possible scenarios as they move ahead in the wake of the parcel tax passage, but they will not be able to fully plan for another two weeks.
"There's still a huge unknown with what happens with the May 19 ballot. We can't make any solid decisions before that May 19 election," she stated.
Superintendent Enoch agreed. "If the ballot measures go down on May 19, it will offset our victory here tonight. More than offset it."
In the meantime, 228 school district teachers remain in limbo. Those teachers received pink slips in March, provisional layoff notices that must either be rescinded or finalized by May 15. Hurd said that at this point they are not planning to rescind those notices until they have the result of the statewide election.
She said that there is legislation currently being considered that may allow school districts in similar situations to postpone making that decision until June 15.
Enoch said he expects those layoff notices to be finalized within the next several days. "I've assured people that these may not be final, it's just by law they have to be given out by May 15. Unfortunately that's the reality you're going to find in almost every school district right now. We're prepared to give those notices out and then rescind them as soon as we can."
He said, however, that concerns about the upcoming vote should not take away from the effort of the community and the victory at hand. "It is celebration tonight … and we will see how the 19th goes."