School district officials, as they did when the current tax was passed almost four years ago, said this week that the tax is needed because of anticipated state education budget cuts. District spokesman Terry Koehne said the proposed tax would pay for the same items the current one pays for.
"The state budget situation is deplorable," said Koehne, adding that even if the proposed tax passes, the district will likely need to make cuts. "Regardless of what happens with the parcel tax, we're looking at cuts that aren't pretty."
Koehne said the district is recommending the board place a parcel tax on the June ballot; the school board is set to vote Tuesday whether to do so.
He said details are still being worked out, but that the higher tax would be about $150 dollars a year for five to seven years. It would bring the district $6.8 million a year.
It would pay for class-size reductions in kindergarten through third grade, and for ninth grade. That limits classes to 20 for those elementary grades and at a 20-to-1 ratio in English and math classes for the high school. It also would pay for the current levels of librarians and counselors in the middle and high schools. The tax would also continue fifth-grade music.
There also could be some money for program expansions, Koehne said. There will be an exemption for seniors 65 and older for property they live on, which is part of the current tax.
Currently, property owners pay $90 per parcel as part of Measure A, passed in April 2004 to raise about $4 million annually for the district for five years. Koehne said the district is in the fourth year of that tax. If passed, the new one would start in July and replace the final year of Measure A.
The district, which has a $199 million budget for this school year, estimated losing $760,000 this school year and receiving $5.4 million less for next year under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget proposal. That, however, was when he was trying to close a $14.5 billion deficit, and before the Legislative Analyst's Office this week estimated that to $16 billion. The school district also is expecting a $3.5 million rise in employee and other operation costs for next year.
Koehne said a community survey to gauge support for higher tax payments showed voters would pass the tax amount being proposed. But passing a parcel tax can be difficult.
Measure A, passed during a special election in which it was the only item countywide, passed with 72 percent approval with 24,076 "yes" votes and 9,363 "no" votes, according to the Contra Costa County Election Department. It was the district's second try, coming after Measure D five months earlier which lost 19,134 to 10,076. Though it had 65.5 percent approval it did not have the two-thirds needed, which Koehne said the new measure would also need.
The San Ramon Valley also has a history of organized opposition.
Mike Arata, a Danville resident who has organized opposition against past school district tax measures, said he has no opinion on this one but is trying to find out more. He said Schwarzenegger's proposed cuts don't necessarily mean a local schools tax is needed; Arata suggested less could be spent on education in general.
"I don't see (Schwarzenegger's ) as draconian cuts," he said.
He also is looking into accusations former school board member Ernie Scherer made that the district underestimated enrollment during the last parcel tax tries to lower projected income and create the appearance of a deficit. Scherer brought those to the 2006-07 Contra Costa County civil grand jury, which did not include the issue in its annual report.
School officials said the group was satisfied after a brief meeting with the district.
Eric Louie covers education. Reach him at 925-847-2123 or email@example.com.
The San Ramon Valley school board meets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the district offices, 699 Old Orchard Drive, Danville.