Danville Express

Cover Story - April 24, 2009

The ABCs of Measure C

Voters will decide on parcel tax to benefit students in the San Ramon Valley school district

by Geoff Gillette

Voters living in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District have a decision to make regarding the future of their schools. More than 80,000 ballots have been delivered to homes in the district, asking voters whether they would be willing to increase their property taxes in order to maintain the dollars being put toward school funding in the face of large-scale budget cuts by the state.

That parcel tax measure, dubbed Measure C, has been placed on the ballot as a special mail-in-only election in the school district. It will replace Measure A, the parcel tax approved in 2004 that is set to expire June 30. The current tax requires owners of each parcel of land to pay an annual fee of $90.

Measure C asks residents to approve going from $90 per year to $144 per year, an increase of $4.50 per month or 62.5 percent, according to the ballot language.

Parcel taxes are a relatively new phenomenon in the San Ramon Valley school district; officials say events that occurred 30 years ago paved the way to the necessity for schools to go to the voters seeking funding assistance.

The so-called "Taxpayer Revolt" of the late '70s led to the passage of California's Proposition 13, legislation that would cap property taxes at 1 percent of the value of a home. That value can be increased by 2 percent each year or by a larger amount if the home is sold.

At the same time, the proposition also limited the California legislature from enacting any new taxes unless ratified by a two-thirds majority vote. In addition, any special taxes that would be enacted in local jurisdictions must be approved by that supermajority. Ironically, on June 6, 1978, the legislation itself was passed by only a 66 percent majority.

School district spokesman Terry Koehne referred to Prop 13 as a precursor to the current economic hardship facing the state of California.

"Since Proposition 13 passed, education funding in this state has declined. There has been exponentially less revenue from property taxes going into the state of California, which has meant a significant decline in education funding," he explained.

Education funding accounts for around 40 percent of the state's annual budget. As the deficit has grown over the years to the point where the funding gap was measured in billions of dollars, cuts were made across the board, further reducing the dollars coming to education.

In addition, the San Ramon Valley district was dealing with the added restriction of being considered a "low wealth" district, according to state funding formulas. As a result, the district receives lower per pupil funding than other districts of similar size. SRVUSD receives $5,725 per student, while Pleasanton Unified receives $6,347 and Dublin Unified receives $6,560.

These factors led SRVUSD to attempt its first parcel tax Nov. 4, 2003. The district attempted to pass a measure to call for an annual $90 parcel tax. It failed, receiving 65.3 percent of the vote.

The following year led to another attempt, Measure A, which was approved with 72 percent of the vote on April 13, 2004. It is that tax, set at $90 per month, which will expire June 30.

Seeing further cuts in funding from the state, the SRVUSD school board in 2008 went back to voters with Measure D, intended to pick up where Measure A left off, as well as increasing the funding in order to make up for shortfalls coming from declining state revenues.

Measure D, dubbed the "Excellence in Education Act," asked voters last June to approve a parcel tax of $166 per year. The measure targeted specific areas that would be funded with the revenue from the tax. Those included fifth-grade instrumental music, libraries at the middle and high schools, counselors at the middle and high schools, and smaller class sizes K-3 and for ninth-grade math and reading classes.

Despite a strong effort by a core group of parents and educators, the measure was defeated on June 3, 2008, with 64 percent of the 67 percent necessary to pass.

Following the defeat, school board members held off making the decision to again go to the voters. Over the summer they considered the issue, analyzing the campaign. In the fall of 2008, the board hired consultant TBWB to look at the possibility of moving ahead with another ballot measure.

It wasn't until nearly the end of 2008 that the decision was made and the district moved ahead with putting Measure C on the ballot. Several hearings were held on the issue, pulling in information from parents as well as the consultants on how to proceed. Despite some arguments calling for a higher amount, the school board approved asking for $144 per year.

Other changes were made as well, one of those being ballot language. While Measure D targeted specific items to be funded, Measure C's language takes a broad spectrum approach. The question reads, in part, "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."

During the Measure D campaign, opponents of the parcel tax voiced concerns regarding how the funds would be allocated and calling for transparency and accountability in the spending of taxpayer dollars. As a result, the district added language to guarantee that no parcel tax monies would be used for administrator salaries and also calling for annual audits and the creation of a citizen oversight committee.

Spokesman Koehne said the reason the measure is broader in scope is that with the seven-year duration of the measure there is concern about what would happen if state revenues continue to dwindle.

"From Year 1 to Year 7, your priorities can change," he explained. "While we understand that this may not be palatable to the voters, the fact is if you choose to lock yourself into a specific program you are locked in. If the economy gets worse and the rest of the district starts to crumble, we'll have to keep funding that program at the expense of all others."

In seeking transparency, Measure C campaign officials say they are reaching out more to the public to get the information disseminated. Campaign co-chairwoman Denise Jennison said that they have sent out mailers and used phone banks to discuss the issues with voters in the district.

"We are doing what we can to make sure people know about Measure C and why we are doing this," she said. "There is a lot of misinformation out there and we want people to have the facts."

Organizers especially are stepping up their efforts to let seniors know that residents 65 and older are exempt from the parcel tax. Koehne said that they have been getting calls regarding the effect of the tax on seniors living on fixed incomes.

"Many of them know there's an exemption," he said, "but don't know how to go about getting it."

Koehne said they merely have to fill out the senior exemption form, which is on the district Web site, and provide proof of age and residence, usually in the form of a driver's license, and a property tax bill. Koehne added that those seniors who are already exempt from Measure A will also be exempt from Measure C without having to reapply.

Opponents of Measure C say the district does not need more money, pointing to more than $12 million in reserves. Some argue that the district is underestimating student enrollments for next year in order to create a shortfall in per student funding.

District Assistant Superintendent of Business Gary Black said there is some truth to what opponents say regarding the reserves.

"Yes, this district has some wise and prudent stewardship from the school board," he said. "We have built up a significant reserve that will allow this district to weather this economy better than other districts."

Black explained that the board will use those reserve funds to fill in holes left in the budget by shortfalls that are expected even if the parcel tax passes.

If Measure C passes, it will generate $7 million. Currently, the district is facing cuts in the neighborhood of $16 million.

Black disagreed that the district has presented any population estimates with an eye toward creating a false shortage.

"There is no benefit to under or overestimating student enrollment," he said. "If we underestimate and there's more students they will go into available classroom space. If we overestimate and there's not as many students, then we have paid for classroom space that isn't being used."

Measure C's fate will be decided May 5, when the Contra Costa County Clerk's office counts up the mail-in ballots for the special election. Both sides of the issue are rallying their supporters and reminding them to mail their ballots prior to May 1.

School District officials have already scheduled a meeting for May 6 to begin discussions of what their next step will be, depending on the outcome of the special election. But first the voters will speak.

Comments

Posted by Hal Bailey, a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Apr 24, 2009 at 7:13 am

Dear Geoff,

Some additional information for your excellent article.

First, parcel tax measures in SRVUSD date back to the early 1990's. You might seek Kathy Chiverton's (now at SRV YMCA) commentary on those parcel tax measures.

Proposition 13 is still a highly supported safeguard for homeowners against politics of taxation that is still prevalent in California. In many parcel tax campaigns in SRVUSD, most leaders were very aware that negative comments about Proposition 13 created a negative response to their campaign. A 2/3rds vote is a safeguard very specifically needed to control the politics of taxation.

The low wealth district status for SRVUSD was challenged during the late 1990's and Assembly Member Joan Buchanan can provide commentary on efforts to change that status. Also, Chris Kenber, former SRVUSD Board Member, would be a good source of commentary on such low wealth status.

Most importantly, SRVUSD and Measure C campaign leaders deserve applause for the transparency of budgetary information found on the SRVUSD website. In Alamo region neighborhoods, voters are noting that our best ability to continue our ownership of SRVUSD and manage its operations is to be significant in its funding. District residents achieve oversight and transparency by continuing parcel tax for facilities and classroom operations.

Thank you for your informative article, Geoff,

Hal


Posted by Rick, a resident of Danville
on Apr 28, 2009 at 6:08 pm

I keep having my comments erased. I'm sorry my opinions are too real for people to take. Your censorship won't stop me. I went to los cerros and monte vista. I'm 27 and I think 75% of the teachers were total losers. I remember my math teacher used to flirt with the 8th grade girls and hide behind the projector screen like a 4 year old. We don't need more money. We need less teachers. When my parents went to school, there were fifty to ninety kids per class, and they learned more. Why? Because everyone shut up and listened. We need discipline in the class. One way to break down discipline is to amp the kids up on sugar. We should not have candy and sodas sold in schools. The teachers unions fought getting rid of jumk food in schools because they want to tax it to give the money "to the schools," ie: to them. They don't give a damn about the kids. Their demands for smaller class sizes is because that means we have to hire more teachers. By the way, we already have plenty of money being sucked from our property taxes to go to our schools. The problem is, we don't spend it on our kids. We send it to Oakland and Richmond, on bilingual education for illegal immigrants and group home kids who murder our children (Rylan Fuchs.) No doubt, 90% of the extra money that they wish to take from us through prop C will within a few years be allotted to other schools.


Posted by Teacherman, a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Apr 29, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Rick

I have read your comments on both forums. Son, you need to find some balance. Your anger and frustration is disheartening. Despite your bad experiences in high school, you are 1 out of 14,000 students who pass through this district every year.

Your argument is clearly personal and if you do plan to get involved with the local political scene (as you have blatantly warned us about) may I suggest some important lessons before you decide to enter the ring:

1. You are young and energetic. You need to sit and contemplate. Pare down your arguments.

2. Be constructive, not destructive. You are merely a child in the playground. Learn to play well with others.

3. Forgive yourself and others for yesterday. You only need to look forward.

4. When in the political arena, if your platform is personal feelings, then it will hurt more when it is kicked out from underneath you. And it will get kicked out from underneath you.

5. People won't listen to a complainer. Rise above the rest of them and turn people's heads because you have something to add, not condemn.

Good luck to you!


Posted by Maxwell, a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Apr 29, 2009 at 6:08 pm

I like this article. I am a senior at San Ramon Valley High School. The teachers here have given me so much. I have gone above and beyond book knowledge to true understanding and desire to learn. The teachers here have allowed me to grow and learn at my own pace, while pushing me to do well on everything. My history teachers have made the subject come alive in the classroom, relating historical events to life application as well as comparative lessons to how past historical moments affect who we are as a society today.

My math teacher this year (a wonderful person) has brought the subject alive in a way I have never experiened before. She has made it easy and fun to do well in the class.

My english teachers have always supported my enthusiasm for writing and language, always pushing me to break old habits and learn better ways of writing and interpreting readings.


Overall, I am very happy for the teachers that I have had. There have been a few who I could have done without, but trust me, there are a few bad eggs in every basket. Just because the system isn't perfect doesn't mean we should be cutting majorly needed funding for the rest of the staff and teachers who are making schools like mine a safe, secure, and nurturing enviornment for students to spend time, grow, learn, and have fun doing it.




God Bless,
Consider voting Yes on C.
Maxwell


Posted by Rick, a resident of Danville
on Apr 30, 2009 at 12:13 am

Teacherman, I'm not the only one of 14000 students who feel this way, as you baselessly claim. As the pollsters say, every person whose passionate enough to speak up is usually speaking for a thousand. In case you haven't noticed, there are others who feel similarly. If there's one thing I can't stand, is broad nonsensical comments like "we need to look forward." who's not looking forward? I just don't like the forward you're suggesting. I'm suggesting a better future. Rational thinkers look to the past to analyze patterns and thus discern the potential future outcomes. I'm sorry I have an opinion. If that makes me a complainer in your mind, I guess you just don't like opinions that diverge with yours. Playing well with others doesn't meaning following an inept system. What I don't understand about people like you is that I provided plenty of constructive criticism. Let me refresh your memory.

There are a lot of good teachers out there that deserve to be paid more, twice as much even, each at the expense of 3 or 4 bad ones who should be purged. We need more physical education. Kids should not be sitting inside florescent-lit rooms for hours on end. They could learn just as much in half the time if they blew out their bodies with athleticism, ate proper and came back into the class fully engaged with teachers who knew how to engage them.

You, like many teachers I know, lack the diligence to truly study your opponents comments. You gloss over them and then pedantically refer to me as "son" while you try and pretend this is a personal vendetta. My personal experiences merely give credence to the ineptitude of our school system. I have plenty of facts outside my own testimonials to prove the fact that our school system requires no more money, but rather proper administration and teaching. Also, this state would not have a fiscal crisis in the first place if libs like you would stop endorsing benefits for illegal immigrants, such as healthcare, education and imprisoning illegal immigrant criminals, which costs the state 30 billion dollars annually. Are you ready to get behind this state and nationwide movement, to end benefits for illegal immigrants? Remember, it's the state's fiscal crisis which you used to justify prop C in the first place.

Good luck to you too


Posted by Teacherman, a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Apr 30, 2009 at 10:36 am

Rick

I will not be continuing a debate on our views since 1. I haven't expressed any of my political, moral, or ethical views for you to judge and 2. None of it has to do with Measure C.

Nevertheless, I just gave you a bit of advice as you pursue your political ambitions and as a result you have labeled me a liberal and endorser of illegal immigration which has never a part of any blog that I have entered.

So again, Son, before you begin your political endeavors, I recommend that you ease your pain, tame your anger, and speak and write intelligently. It seems you have already pushed Mr. Arata, the guru of your mission, out of your territory with your ill remarks regarding Churchill.

You will receive no respect, no sympathy, and no ears if you continue to vocalize your valid points in such a negative, vindictive manner.


Posted by Objective Viewpoint, a resident of San Ramon
on Apr 30, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Geoff,
I do want to commend you on having written one of the better constructed articles on Measure C, although a bit more balance from ballot measure opponents would have been nice since it looks like this was meant to be a journalistic cover story rather than an editorial.

I've personally researched a lot of financial information for a lot of years about the district and evaluated Measure C thoroughly and in the interest of disclosure have made up my mind to vote NO on Measure C and have offered some commentary on the other comment string active in the Danville Weekly on Measure C.

Having said that, I do want to correct some statements which have been attributed to SRVUSD spokesman Terry Koehne in your article.

First, Prop 13 has not held back K-12 school spending growth in the state with spending climbing from $9.6 Billion in 1984 (earliest data available) to $38.5 Billion in 2009, and that doesn't even count the plethora of local tax initiatives passed such as Measure C so Koehne's argument about a decline in education spending is absurdly false on its face and anyone can check the numbers themselves at the LAO website Web Link

Second, when Koehne implies that Prop 13 is responsible for the "low-wealth" funding status of SRVUSD, he is again grossly factually wrong since the initiation of the state's involvement in local school funding and the establishment of state's revenue limit funding to school districts was the result of legal action initiated and settled well before the 1978 passage of Prop 13. In fact, it was the 1968 "Serrano vs. Priest" lawsuit in which the State Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that California's education funding method was unconstitutional which led the Legislature to enact in the same year the new revenue limit funding method and the related "low wealth" status of SRVUSD effectively disconnecting property taxes from actual state spending on education. Now I do agree that the "low wealth" status of SRVUSD needs to be addressed through funding equalization legislation, but to hang the blame on Prop 13 which came 6 years after "Serrano vs. Priest" just proves that it's the education lobby's favorite bogeyman.

Another key fact that needs to be mentioned is that when the district had the 2008 Measure D parcel tax on the ballot that failed, they granted a new RETROACTIVE pay increase, above and beyond regular annual tenure and COLA increases, just one month BEFORE the results were known, committing another $4 million in spedning annually which coincidentally, or not, was the intended additional tax take annually from Measure D. Then, for Measure C, they decided to conveniently skip the 11/2008 election which could have saved a substantial amount of money. These are just a couple of quick examples of why SRVUSD's fiscal mismanagement shouldn't be rewarded with passage of Measure C.

Also, the supposed "accountability" measures are flawed since first, the SRVUSD board will stack the "oversight committee" with fellow travelers which I've witnessed in their selection of Facilities Advisory Committee members and with their recent school board appointment who came from the FAC. Second, the "audits" are only required if they don't spend the parcel tax money and who thinks that will happen? Third, who can credibly believe that you get more "accountability" and "transparancy" by making sanctioned spending less defined by going "broad spectrum" with the language? SRVUSD has only one priority and that is to lavish parcel tax proceeds on the union on unearned retroactive raises and that will not change without major overhaul.

As I mentioned in my other posts, SRVUSD has not even attempted to
negotiate any union concessions and in fact board members have publically ruled them out categorically. Only the defeat of Measure C will get them and the union to look at the financial situation realistically to save jobs because anything less will leave them always trying to take the easy way out by imposing a greater burden on taxpayers.

Lastly, the only people spreading misinformation about Measure C is SRVUSD and the only hole they intend to fill is their political debt to the union.

Thanks for the opportunity to shed more light on this subject and to urge voters to vote NO on Measure C.



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