EL CERRITO -- West Contra Costa school district trustees moved this week toward placing another parcel tax measure on the ballot by agreeing to spend $30,000 on a survey to check the mood of voters.
The action came in the wake of the failure of Measure K, a parcel tax on the June 5 ballot.
Measure K would have extended the roughly $10 million in annual funding from a 2008 parcel tax and provided an additional $4 million to pay for library and athletic programs, reduce class size, and hire teachers, counselors and custodians beyond the end of the 2013-14 school year, when the current tax sunsets.
About 30 to 40 residents addressed the issue at Monday's special board meeting at Harding Elementary School that was called to discuss a new parcel tax and school bond measure and their timing and scope.
Superintendent Bruce Harter told about 50 to 75 attendees that the district has succeeded in its last five school bond elections to build new schools and renovate old ones. On the other hand, just two of the past five parcel taxes, which help support educational programs, have received the voters' blessing.
Under California law, school bonds need 55 percent of the vote to pass, while parcel taxes require two-thirds approval. Measure K narrowly failed with 65.5 percent of the vote.
Virtually all the speakers supported a parcel tax in November, but many warned against placing another school bond on the ballot at the same time, fearing voter fatigue.
Both Gov. Jerry Brown and an independent group have placed statewide tax measures to benefit schools on the November ballot, adding to a potential deluge of tax initiatives.
"Putting a bond measure and a parcel tax on the ballot is a mistake," said Anna Porter, part of a large contingent of parents with children at Kensington Hilltop Elementary. "We need funds to go to the classroom."
"Don't mix in a bond," said Eduardo Martinez of Richmond. "Concentrate on a parcel tax."
Several speakers also urged the board to hire a new consultant to lead the parcel tax campaign and do a better job of selling the tax in Pinole and Hercules at the northern end of the district.
Measure K received 54 percent of the vote in Pinole versus 85 percent in Kensington and 73 percent in El Cerrito, according to school board President Charles Ramsey.
Several speakers urged the board to take advantage of the November ballot when the presidential election is likely to bring out more voters and generate more excitement. The district's last two successful parcel taxes were passed in 2004, when the board threatened to cut costs by canceling school sports programs, and 2008, both presidential election years.
Board members Antonio Medrano, Madeline Kronenberg and Tony Thurmond voted for a new survey and said they will vote to place a parcel tax on the November ballot if it would have a good chance of success. Board member Elaine Merriweather was absent.
The board will take a final vote on whether to move ahead Aug. 1.
Ramsey voted with the others but expressed reservations about the plan. He declined to go into detail when pressed by some in the audience.
After the meeting, he indicated he is getting tired of carrying the water for parcel tax campaigns and that he's not feeling enthusiastic about doing it again.
"I haven't been the majority fundraiser (for campaigns), I've been the only fundraiser," he said. "An unfunded campaign is going to be more difficult to pass."
Ramsey also said he thinks it's unfair to dismiss or delay a new school bond when six schools are operating in old and obsolete facilities while others have new buildings in use or under construction.