http://danvillesanramon.com/print/story/print/2008/05/30/measure-d-parcel-tax-would-continue-to-fund-school-programs-locally


DanvilleSanRamon.com

Perspective - May 30, 2008

Measure D parcel tax would continue to fund school programs locally

by Meghan Neal

Education advocates and community leaders are rallying behind Measure D, a parcel tax that would generate extra funds for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.

Measure D would renew the Excellence in Education Act passed by voters in 2004 and set to expire in a year. It would also increase the current tax from $90 to $166 per year to account for inflation. It will be on the ballot June 3.

Supporters say that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget revision this month, which eases up on cuts to education, won't make it harder to get the two-thirds vote needed to pass the local tax.

"In a way we're talking apples and oranges here," said district spokesman Terry Koehne. "Regardless of what happens with the state budget we still need a local funding source in order to continue to fund these programs."

The Excellence in Education Act funds specific programs like class size reduction, fifth-grade instrumental music, middle school and high school libraries and counselors, and other services.

The estimated $8 million in revenue generated by the parcel tax would go toward continuing to fund these programs. An increased focus on math and science would also be added to the list to answer a growing need for the U.S. to compete in a global economy.

Measure D has garnered widespread political support; it's been endorsed by State Sen. Tom Torlakson (D., 7th), State Assemblyman Guy Houston (R., 15th), County Supervisor Mary N. Piepho, the Danville and San Ramon town councils and the school district board of trustees.

"I think that people believe that the school district is successful because people have been supporting it through these taxes," said Chris Kenber, co-chair of the Measure D campaign Citizens for Quality Schools.

Student test scores and the Academic Performance Index in the district are among the highest in California. Ironically, the district receives the fourth lowest level of per-pupil funding statewide.

"So we have what I would regard as severely under-funded schools," Kenber said. To stay afloat the district relies on parent support, school bonds and local parcel taxes, which aren't subject to the ups and downs of the state budget, he said.

When Schwarzenegger first introduced the budget with a proposed $4.8 billion in cuts to education, districts across the state began slashing programs and laying off teachers and staff. SRVUSD faced $8 million in cuts.

"That's the irony of this," said Koehne. "You have to sort of make cuts based on what the 'experts' are projecting. So while the governor's May revisions are certainly better news than what the original proposal was in January, it's by no means a cure-all."

Danville resident Michael Arata leads the Measure D opposition group. The former teacher has fought school parcel taxes for years, saying that with responsible budgeting the district can fund any genuine needs without raising taxes.

He claims the Measure D money would not go into the designated programs but into the district's general fund, where it would then be used to give teachers unmerited pay raises.

"What they do is play shell games with the funding, because the parcel tax monies go into the general fund," Arata said. "I'm against the deception for one thing - for starters."

Schools will even go as far as to purposely cut programs to give the appearance that they need extra funding, and then turn around and put it toward pay raises, he said, explaining that the school board is backed by the teachers' union and has its interests in mind rather than academic and fiscal interests.

Arata conceded that this message is a difficult one to get out to voters, but said "there are thousands of people who oppose the measure and I believe if more of the 'Yes' votes paid attention to the issues, they too would vote No."

"If people perceive that as they tighten their belts the district is fattening its belt again, then there's a chance of beating this measure," he said.

Supporters of the tax point out that even those without children in the school district stand to benefit from it, because quality schools do a lot to increase property values. Moreover, residents over 65 would be able to opt out of paying the fee.

"We know that this community supports education," said Koehne. "They understand how critical quality education is to this community in regards to home values and property values and regards to overall quality of life. It's just a matter of whether or not they will show up at the polls and show their support that way."

For more information in support of Measure D visit www.citizensforqualityschools.net; in opposition, visit noonD.info.

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