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School Board, Education Foundation Ready to Take Another Run at Parcel Tax Measures

Officials will consider changes to the proposed rate and ballot language before putting Measures W and X back before voters

The Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education is ready to try again with parcel tax Measures W and X that failed to get a two-thirds vote June 5, but may change the per-parcel dollar amount or ballot language in an effort to get more support.

Election results haven’t been certified by Santa Barbara County yet, and the district could ask for — and pay for — a recount when they are. The existing parcel taxes, Measures H and I, would have been replaced by Measures W and X next year.

Superintendent Dave Cash said Tuesday night that those measures funded music, arts, foreign language and science programs in all of the district’s schools. The money put a violin in the hands of every fourth-grader, bought tens of thousands of dollars worth of science equipment, provided iPads for most secondary teachers and made available “world-class” arts and theater offerings for junior high and high school students.

“Those things will all be on the table, absent some change in revenue picture for our school district,” Cash said.

The campaign for Measures W and X was run by the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, which has agreed to do it all again if the board decides to put the measures on the November ballot.

Foundation Executive Director Margie Yahyavi said she was heartsick that the measures lost and urged the board to look at it again. The foundation’s board believes low voter turnout was mostly to blame, but Yahyavi said it stings all the more since one failed by only about 120 votes.

“I personally think we need to come out strong,” she said. “It’s just too darn close to whimper or scatter away or be apologetic.”

Foundation board member Mark Ingalls said the campaign was terrific and that the measures didn’t have anything wrong with them, but were defeated by a silent minority. He suggested the board push forward with the same per-parcel amounts and ballot language so the campaign can pick up exactly where it left off.

Board member Annette Cordero said she would be thrilled if the Education Foundation ran the campaign again.

“You’ve demonstrated over and over again your commitment and perseverance not only to serving the schools, but skills and expertise in running a campaign,” she said.

Board members want to try again, but they don’t agree yet on whether the ballot measures will get a makeover before going on the November ballot. There were concerns voiced about competing with Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, too, but the board plans to make final decisions at its June 26 meeting.

Some expressed concern with the proposed $54 per-parcel rate, a doubling of the current rates, saying it is imperative the measures pass — even if it’s for a little less money. Of course, with less money, some of the promises in the ballot measure — most likely the smaller class sizes — would be eliminated.

Board member Ed Heron said the low turnout wasn’t the only reason the measures failed this time. He said the district had to overcome opposition from the Santa Barbara News-Press, Montecito Journal and Republican Party.

Board members said they want to make sure educational efforts are strong this time around, too, so people know what their money would be funding in local schools.

There’s already at least one vocal opponent.

During public comment during Tuesday night’s meeting, Santa Barbara resident Lou Segal fired off against the measures, saying “no reform, no money.” Without changes to the way contracts are written between teachers and the district, he plans to oppose another effort by the measures with his own money — fundraising and writing opposition language for the ballot. He argued that the contracts are “abominations” and teachers are hired for life without evaluation.

“This is not going to happen without a fight,” he said.

After his comments, Cash said: “Much of what was stated was inaccurate.”

The board is also scheduled to adopt the 2012-13 budget at the June 26 meeting. The district faces a $5.9 million cut if Brown’s November tax initiative doesn’t pass, in addition to the millions of dollars already cut during the past several years.

Meg Jette, assistant superintendent of business services, said California’s per-pupil funding is $2,800 below the national average, making it one of the lowest-performing states, and the state government has used deferrals and other methods to deny more than 20 percent of the district’s funding that is entitled.

“I think this should be illegal, but that’s just my personal opinion,” she said.

The district’s entitlement from the state has already been cut by 22.5 percent, and if the “trigger” cuts go through in November, it would essentially cut every dime of the $5.9 million in state aid.

“So basically we will be funded by property taxes next year if the tax initiative doesn’t pass,” Jette said.

To prepare for the worst, the board will vote on a budget that cuts about $6 million for next year with seven furlough days for employees, 57 retirements, resignations and reorganizing the district office, Jette said. The school year would be five days shorter because of the furloughs.

“It’s the double hit,” Cash said, adding that many districts have fallen into basic aid (funded entirely by local property taxes) recently because of the state cuts in revenues, probably more so than any other time in California’s history since Proposition 13 passed.

With furloughs and the increased health costs, teachers are essentially taking a 12 percent cut in pay, David Holmes, a member of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association’s executive board, said during the public comment period. He said teachers’ workloads have only increased in that time, too, with implementing the Common Core in addition to their regular duties.

The classified employees negotiated furlough days with the district, and with the agreement approved on Tuesday, board members thanked the labor group for its sacrifice.

“Words can’t really say how much we appreciate this,” board president Susan Deacon said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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