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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 5:12 pm | Fair 66º


Education Foundation Wants Music the Focus of Parcel Tax Plan

The Santa Barbara School District, though, says a survey shows support for technology and math, too.

A day after the cash-strapped Santa Barbara School Board voted to put a pair of parcel taxes on the November ballot, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, which over the years has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for public schools, on Wednesday said it would be willing to lead the campaign in support of the elementary school parcel tax — but on one condition: that the focus of the proposal be on funding music programs.

The twin parcel taxes for the Santa Barbara school system would be for the elementary district — which exists wholly within the boundaries of the city — and the seventh- through 12th-grade district, which includes Santa Barbara, Goleta and Montecito.

The education foundation’s announcement in a mass e-mail Wednesday was in direct response to a survey of local taxpayers released this month by the school district indicating that the public might support an elementary district parcel tax to fund three things: music, technology and math. The foundation doesn’t think that is the way to go.

“The Santa Barbara Education Foundation strongly supports that music be the focus of the tax, since technology and math are not the greatest areas of need for the district,” Tina Fanucchi, the foundation’s executive director, wrote in the e-mail. “If we are going to tax the community for the improvement of education, then it needs to be in the areas of greatest need, and in the elementary district, that is music programs.”

At 1:30 p.m. Friday, the school board will work to nail down details on the initiatives, such as how much money to ask from voters and which programs the taxes would fund.

Parcel taxes are unlike bonds in that they charge the same amount for every parcel, regardless of their value.

Although the exact amounts of the initiatives have yet to be solidified, the board on Tuesday decided on a general target: $25 a year per parcel for four years. That would generate about $600,000 annually for the 10-school elementary district and about $1.3 million annually for the seven-school high school district.

Since 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 $25 a year. A homeowner in Santa Barbara would pay $50 a year. Owners of more than one property would pay $25 annually for each piece of property.

Parcel taxes need a two-thirds majority to pass and can be used to pay for teachers and school programs.

Seniors could be exempt from the tax, and an oversight committee would be formed.

This year, largely because of an unprecedented financial crisis at the state level, the school board cut $4 million from its budget for the 2008-09 school year. That resulted in the elimination of a program to keep ninth-grade math classes small, as well as the jobs of teachers, psychologists, special-education aides, elementary school health assistants and a junior high assistant principal.

A little more than a year ago, the board cut most of the elementary music program, but several months later — thanks largely to a grant from the Santa Barbara Education Foundation — the program was restored and enhanced. Now, every fourth-grader in the district takes violin lessons, and fifth- and sixth-graders can take music lessons.

On Wednesday, Fanucchi said a parcel tax that focuses on music education would allow the schools to add kindergarten through third grade.

“It’s a tiny investment for a huge result,” she said. “There are districts all over the country that have acknowledged the correlation of music education and academic performance — especially in districts high numbers of ESL (English as a Second Language) students.

“It’s not just an enrichment program. Yes, there’s intrinsic value to (learning an instrument), and that’s all fine and good, but there are measurable (test) results.”

In the past four years, the foundation has raised $450,000 for music education. Fanucchi said that a parcel tax would allow it to get back to focusing on other areas of academic need. In the past, for instance, the foundation has paid for new playground and library equipment.

Some school board members agree with Fanucchi, to varying degrees. Board member Nancy Harter said she would like to know what voters said in the survey, but doesn’t necessarily believe that the money from a parcel tax should fund technology and math at the same level as music.

“If the voters have said that’s what they’d be interested in identifying, I’d be a fool to ignore the poll results,” she said. “Now, I don’t want to be a slave to the research, either.” She added that some schools have said that each district could use a math coach for teachers.

School board member Bob Noel, however, said the language of the survey was flawed, and added that he agrees that music is the greatest area of need in the elementary district.

“We have such a debt of gratitude for the foundation for picking up the slack in our budgets to keep the elementary music program alive,” he said. “It’s been an incredible thing.”

As for the secondary district’s parcel tax, Noel said he would like to see it focused on bringing back seventh period, which was cut several years ago, taking a toll on elective offerings at the junior high level.

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]

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