Tuesday, June 24, 2008

School District parcel tax moves along


A $25 parcel tax that could bolster education in the Santa Barbara School Districts will likely be on the November general election ballot, the Board of Education decided last night. But the exact programs the money will be used for is still up in the air.
The board voted 4-1 to approve the $25 tax in concept, place it on the November ballot and have it last for four years.
What they didn’t do is specify what the money will be used for. That discussion will take place during a special meeting at 1:30 p.m. this Friday at the district administration building.

But this lack of specificity was why Board Member Nancy Harter dissented.
“I’m very in favor of the parcel tax,” she said after the vote. “But I think we need to be very specific about how we’re going to use it.”
The board’s discussion began with a wide-open preview on the parcel tax, which prior to last night could have been set for any amount, during any election, for any duration and used for any programs. Compounding these questions is the looming deadline of July 3 — the latest date the board can submit ballot language to the Santa Barbara County Education Office.
All of the board members said they were reluctant to rush through the specifics of the parcel tax without another meeting.
However, a wide consensus expressed support for the $25 amount, which is significantly lower than the $44 a polling firm found a pool of 800 Santa Barbara voters would overwhelmingly approve.
The poll, which was commissioned by the district to the tune of $30,000 and was conducted by GODBE Research, asked voters a number of questions about educational programs they would support using the money for. These include improving math and science education and re-implementing or bolstering music, art and theater programs. The board expressed interest in adding foreign language programs to the list.
Districts Superintendent Brian Sarvis had staff create a worksheet outlining the specific costs of these improvements based on the $44 parcel tax.
The only one that the board seemed collectively against was hiring a math coach in both districts, which will likely be struck from the list this Friday.
The meeting was lightly attended and the only person publicly opposed to the parcel tax was Richard Foster, who addressed the board during public comment.
Foster said he and at least a dozen other homeowners in the area plan to oppose the tax because of the way the district has spent funds in the past.
“We feel there’s not accountability,” he said. “The only way [we] seem to bring about change in this district is to strangle you with money.”
One possible strike against the parcel tax for some voters is that separate taxes will be levied for the elementary and secondary district. This means someone living in the bounds of both districts will be charged $50, granted the district decides on the $25 tax. The majority of voters impacted by both taxes would reside in the city of Santa Barbara. Those living in Montecito and Goleta have their own elementary districts, in most cases, and would therefore only be charged the secondary tax.
If the board ends up officially approving a parcel tax Friday, it will not be able to campaign for the tax in any way. For that, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation stepped to the plate last night.
Lynn Rodriguez, a board member of the Education Foundation, said she and the foundation support the parcel tax and would run the campaign.
As a former Board of Education member, Rodriguez said she is familiar with the issues in the cash-strapped district and has long realized a parcel tax, which the district has never asked for up to this point, is appropriate.
“Our teachers need the support, our students deserve it,” she said.
But as the board prepares to designate the funds for specific programs this Friday, the overarching question is will remain: is $25 per parcel, per year enough to make a significant difference? By Harter’s count, $25 will yield about $1.3 million for the secondary district and nearly $600,000 for the elementary district.
Sarvis said any amount would help, but wonders if $25 will do enough.
“That’s really the question,” Sarvis said. “That’s what the discussion Friday will be all about; what $25 can realistically support.”


Laura said...

There is not one district...there are two districts: the elementary district and the secondary district. There will be two parcel tax initiatives: one for each district. Your reporter needs to bone up on this for future articles.

Joe Folshom said...

Umm.. Laura, is it? Yeah, well, I just read the article and I'm pretty sure it says there will be two separate taxes. Maybe you need to bone up on your reading comprehension.