In an effort to garner overwhelming voter support in November’s election, the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education decided Tuesday night to drop the $54-per-parcel amount from June’s failed parcel-tax ballot measures to $45 per parcel in the secondary district and $48 per parcel in the elementary district.
Board members voted unanimously to support the second try at funding, which would protect math, science, music, arts, technology and foreign language programs supported by Measures H and I, parcel taxes passed in 2008. Officials said that if the measures fail in November, many programs are likely to be cut, maybe even eliminated.
The Santa Barbara Education Foundation, which has run the last three campaigns for the district, will head the effort again, according to incoming board president Sal Guereña.
“We will double our efforts in November,” he said.
School board members were confident that the $54-per-parcel plan was needed, but worried about being able to get the necessary two-thirds majority approval. On June 5, the measures failed by a narrow margin, with one of them behind by about 120 votes.
Board member Annette Cordero worried that a lowered amount may be construed as the district needing less, which isn’t true. She said the district needs everything that was outlined in Measures W and X, and those programs will need every penny the parcel tax can provide — maybe even more.
“Just minutes ago we talked about how we have one plumber for the entire district; 15,000 students over 20 sites, and one plumber,” member Monique Limon said. “Though this won’t support needs in those areas, it allows us to provide programs that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to provide.”
Bryan Godbe, a consultant who did polling and recommended that the district pursue the parcel taxes in June, suggested that the amount be lowered and the dialogue be focused on the need, not the amount, according to board president Susan Deacon.
“That would be heartbreaking if we lost again, so I feel the burden to do whatever we can to ensure that they pass,” she said emotionally, breaking up a little. “If they’re not passed in November, our schools are not going to look like what people think they should look like anymore. They just won’t, and they’re already hurting.”
If approved, the parcel-tax measures would provide revenue to support math, science, technology education, music, arts, foreign language and theater, and augment career skills courses, according to the district and ballot language. An independent citizens committee would oversee the spending, and money could not be seized by the state.
“Class size reduction” language isn’t included in the ballot measure because of its expense. To reduce K-3 class sizes by one student, from 25 to 24, would cost $15 per parcel in the elementary district, according to Superintendent Dave Cash. It would cost $70.95 per parcel to get 20-student classes in K-3. By taking out the ninth-grade math reduction included in Measures H and I, he said, more money will be available for materials and other programs.
There are 24,000 parcels in the elementary school district and 52,000 parcels in the secondary school district, which includes both Santa Barbara and Goleta.
“I think it’s going to take all of us and then some,” Lynn Rodriguez, the outgoing Education Foundation board president, said after the meeting.
She and other board members said the campaign will have to focus on the district’s successes, even with state cuts, and a clear message about what the measures would provide for students.
Also on Tuesday night, the board approved the 2012-13 budget, which includes seven days of employee furloughs and five fewer days of school for students.
Meg Jette, assistant superintendent of business services, said she assumes Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative in November will fail, bringing $5.5 million in midyear cuts, and the district budgeted accordingly.
“I’m half empty,” she said.
“You’re half empty and I’m half full, but I’m also half smart,” Cash said. “You have to prepare for the worst-case scenario and hope for the best.”
The district is still deficit spending, with a budget of $109 million in expenditures and $108 million in revenues. The 3 percent reserve level is met, but just barely, Jette said.
Revenues are projected to drop 7.9 percent from the current year, and expenditures are cut 9.9 percent from the 2011-12 budget.
Transitional kindergarten is planned to start in fall, though it’s unclear how much state funding is going to be allocated until the budget is passed, according to the staff report.
The district’s largest restricted program is special education, which is underfunded by a huge margin.
Jette noted that federal and state government revenues provide about $5 million, but the district spends about $20 million per year, which encroaches on the general fund.