Thursday, October 30, 2008

Leaders make push for school measures


Education leaders, community members and parents in support of Measures H and I made their final push during a press conference yesterday, calling on the community to vote for both school-related taxes when they head to the polls next week.
If approved, the measures would assess a $27 parcel tax on homes in the elementary school district, located mostly in the city of Santa Barbara; and a $23 parcel tax on those in the high school district, which stretches from Montecito to Goleta.

Funds raised by the proposed taxes, approximately $2 million, would be used to bolster math, science, technology, music, arts and theater programs. Supporters said the measures are necessary given the economic climate and the state budget crisis.
“We are facing some difficult times at the state,” County Supervisor Salud Carbajal said, adding that he was speaking as the father of an 8-year-old boy currently in the public school system.
“More than ever we need funds like these to sustain our educational programs and institutions,” he said. “…We can’t invest enough in our schools.”
He said two additional elements included in the ballot measures caught his eye: an expiration date in four years and an exemption for senior citizens facing financial difficulty.
Campaign leaders said the measures also provide for annual independent audits and a citizen oversight committee to ensure the funds are used as planned — for programs rather than administrative costs.
While there is no organized group against either measure, several self-described taxpayers and homeowners — Richard Foster, Harry and Carmen Rouse, and Alwyn and Dolores Hartnett — authored a ballot argument against Measure H, the high school district tax.
“The Santa Barbara School District has a horrible record of delivering what they promise to do,” the opponents wrote in their argument. “Secondly, they have had years of chaotic, revolving door leadership. Thirdly, if this passes they will be back in four years demanding even more money while threatening to terminate your favorite program.”
In their statement, opponents cited increases in the superintendent’s salary while teachers were being laid off and improper use of Measure V bond funds in recent years as reasons for distrusting school officials. Attempts to contact several of the signatories were not successful.
Mark Ingalls, a member of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation and co-chair of the campaign, said other than cases of scattered opposition, he has seen widespread support for both measures.
“It’s a very grassroots campaign, but again it’s a very grassroots issue,” he said. “…This sends a really strong message to our youth and students that education is very important.”
During a gathering at Santa Barbara Junior High School, several local leaders and community members also lent their support to the ballot measures.
Congresswoman Lois Capps noted three of her children graduated from the junior high, pointing out its architecture and recently refurbished Marjorie Luke Theatre as examples of how education has always been important to local residents.
She also described it as imperative that voters see the connection between public schools and the economy.
“If you are concerned about the state of our economy, and who isn’t these days, you should be exactly focused on passing Measures H and I,” she said.
Linda Phillips, president of the Santa Barbara League of Women Voters, also made note of the state budget struggles and said the two measures will help local schools make it through the next few years.
Describing how the taxes equate to between 50 cents and a dollar a week, Phillips said the social benefit of supporting crucial school programs far outweighs the cost.
“When my children were in the high schools here, they profited from all the programs this supports, from math and science to music and theater,” she said.
Measures H and I have received endorsements from the Santa Barbara Teachers Association, the County Democratic Central Committee, Partners in Education and numerous elected officials.
The measures will need to receive approval from two-thirds of the voting public in order to pass.

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