The Santa Barbara School Board on Friday put the finishing touches on a pair of parcel taxes for the November ballot that, if approved, would bring music classes to all elementary students and bolster a range of programs in the seventh through 12th-grade district, from math to theater to foreign language.
The initiative will ask taxpayers in the elementary district, which exists wholly in the city of Santa Barbara, to approve a tax of $27 per parcel, and voters in the seventh- through 12th-grade district — which includes Montecito, Santa Barbara and Goleta — to approve a slightly smaller amount: $23.
The taxes would generate about $523,000 annually for the elementary district and about $1.1 million a year for the seventh- through 12th grade district. The tax would last four years, and seniors may be exempt.
School officials say they are appealing to voters because the state budget, which bankrolls the bulk of school funding, has suffered, leaving less and less room for the enrichment classes that used to be considered a given in public education. In April, the board cut $4 million, or about 4 percent, from its 2008-09 budget. The year before, it cut $2.5 million.
Because the elementary and high school districts overlap, the twin proposals mean that people in the elementary district — that is, in Santa Barbara — could be taxed twice. So, if both initiatives pass, a homeowner in Goleta or Montecito would pay $23 a year. A homeowner in Santa Barbara would pay $50 a year.
Leading the campaign in support of the measures will be the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, which in the past four years has all but kept music education alive in the elementary schools by raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from organizations such as the foundation of Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea.
Earlier this week, the executive director of the education foundation sent out a strongly worded mass e-mail saying the foundation would support the district’s parcel taxes only if the focus on the elementary version was on music.
The school board on Friday did not disappoint, earmarking for music about 92 percent of the roughly $523,000 that would be raised by the elementary district’s tax for each of the four years.
“It seems to me the foundation board would be very happy with what the school board said today,” said Santa Barbara Education Foundation board member Lynn Rodriguez, a former school board member. “When I was on the school board, so many kids came up to us and said the only thing that got them out of bed to go to school was their music class or their theater class.”
The tax, if approved, would allow the district to provide music education to all children in grades kindergarten through sixth grade. Now, every fourth-grader in the district takes violin lessons, and fifth- and sixth-graders can take music lessons.
The tax would quadruple the staffing level from two full-time teachers to eight. About $15,000 a year would be used for maintaining the instruments.
Not all of the money from the elementary tax would go toward music. About $40,000 a year would support math, science and computer technology programs.
In the high school district — which includes junior high schools — the tax would bring $312,000 annually to the anemic music and theater programs of the junior high schools. About five years ago, the board shortened the school day of the junior high schools by a period — to six — taking a deep bite out of the elective offerings.
In the high schools, about $285,000 a year would be devoted to restoring smaller math classes for ninth-graders. So-called “ninth-grade-class-size reduction” for math was among the largest cuts the board made in April. School officials say ninth-graders do better in smaller classes because the transition from middle school to high school can be overwhelming.
About $333,000 a year would augment the foreign language programs at both the junior high and high school levels. A year ago, for instance, students, parents and teachers lamented when Santa Barbara High School cut its German class. Latin classes also have been shrinking.
Parcel taxes are unlike bonds in that they charge the same amount for every parcel, regardless of their value. They need a two-thirds majority to pass and can be used to pay for teachers and school programs. District officials said an independent citizen oversight committee will keep tabs on the way the money is spent. None of the money would be used for administrative salaries.
Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at email@example.com.