For the last eight years, the West Contra Costa Unified School District has levied an annual tax of 7.2 cents per square foot on each parcel of taxable property to “maintain quality education with local funding.” The tax expires in June 2014, and so the district has created Measure G to ask voters to continue it.
The ballot language specifies that people who are 65 or older or anyone who receives Supplemental Security Income for disability may apply for an exemption.
The money collected is used to:
- Maintain class sizes from kindergarten to third grade
- Purchase textbooks and teaching materials
- Attract and retain qualified teachers, aides and counselors
- Enhance core subjects
- Restore library services and sports programs
- Improve custodial services
For the 2011-2012 fiscal year the district estimates that the parcel tax will generate $9.7 million — which is equivalent to about 75 full-time employees according to the district’s parcel tax expenditure budget with ballot text identification document.
The money is almost completely used to hire people to serve students, said Sheri Gamba, the associate superintendent of business services for the district.
“It’s all about people delivering services to children,” she said. “Whether it’s cleaning or providing support. Teachers can’t run the libraries and teach in the schools too.”
Currently, for example, the parcel tax pays for the equivalent of 32 staff members to staff libraries across the district she said.
Gamba said because the tax pays for employees, and their costs can be variable, the money doesn’t pay for the exact same amount of services each year, but the district tries to keep it close.
She said if Measure G doesn’t pass that loss in revenue would throw the district’s budget into turmoil.
“We’ll have to begin to take apart what it means to lose it,” she said. “That’s going to be challenging because we’re funding some really fundamental services with it.”
Following the narrow defeat of Measure K in June— which would have both extended and increased the parcel tax — the school board held a special meeting on July 2 to solicit public comment about the possibility of another parcel tax measure, bond measure or both.
After the meeting a parent group, Support West County Students, embarked on a three-week campaign pushing for a parcel tax increase, said Ben Steinberg who was leading the group’s efforts.
Steinberg said the group of concerned parents came to a consensus that schools in the district need more operational money in their budgets to provide for their students, but were not able to mobilize a full campaign in the three-week period before the school board voted on what measures to put forth on November’s ballot.
“The issue is so vitally important,” he said. “We see that all the fat is being cut out and now we’re cutting into the bone.”
Measure K received 65.5 percent of the vote, 1.2 percent shy of the two-thirds it needed to pass. With the numbers so close, Steinberg said some parents felt immediately trying again with voters would have been a prime opportunity to push a parcel tax increase.
“This is a presidential election and it would have the best chance of passing,” he said.
Support West County Students has since decided to focus on developing a stronger communication system between parents in the district, Steinberg said, and has not taken an official position on the measure, although he is personally listed as supporting an argument in favor of the measure in the county voter guide.
Measure G is a straight renewal of the same tax originally passed in June of 2004 and then renewed in November of 2008. If passed the tax will be extended through June 30, 2019.
School Board President Charles Ramsey said the district first asked for a parcel tax in 2004 in response to decreased state funding to schools.
“A lot of districts don’t have class size reduction, they’ve closed their library,” he said. “If you look at higher performing districts they all have parcel taxes. Why? Because that’s the only way you’re going to become a district that gets the things they need.”
Ramsey said the district has exhausted its resources and cut $43 million from its operating budget.
“We’re just trying to protect what we already have in place,” he said. “If this doesn’t pass, we’re through.”