Following yesterday’s column, the Vanguard received an interesting email from a resident. In it they predict that a parcel tax next June will fail for the school district. For one thing, the suggestion was made that the board would put it on the ballot for June with a COLA (cost-of-living adjustment), believing if it fails they would then have time to come back in November with a smaller parcel tax.
The timing in June would be interesting, pitting the schools against a potential tax measure for the city. It is possible that that could spell doom for both.
The resident notes that there is a large and growing group that may vote against the tax measure. First, you have the baseline anti-tax people. In the last three parcel taxes in 2011 and 2012, that number ranged from just under 33 percent of the vote to less than 28 percent of the vote. It is a small group, numerically speaking, but that is just the baseline.
The district has been fortunate that no one more formidable than Jose Granda and his band of anti-tax nuts have taken them on. In spring of 2011, however, Measure A passed by just 89 votes due to a series of stumbles by the district and the campaign.
The question is whether current crises are enough to push the number of opponents higher. You have those who are angry at the district over GATE/AIM and the firing of Deanne Quinn. Are these people angry enough to lodge a protest vote?
It was rightly pointed out that past controversies like Valley Oak did not produce a backlash. But that was also a different time. The district was facing a true crisis, and while the people might have been angry at the closing of Valley Oak, they were not willing to see the layoffs of hundreds of teachers as a viable protest.
But our look at the last three elections shows the margins are alarmingly thin. Measure A in 2011, as we noted, was beset with controversy and passed by only 89 votes. Both Measure C and Measure E were passed with greater margins. Measure C, in spring 2012, had a 972-vote margin while Measure E, in November 2012, had a 710-vote margin.
But in both cases, if just 1000 people switched their votes in those elections, the measures would have failed. 1000 people is a lot but not insurmountable. If we figure that there are 2000 GATE students in the district, with single-parent households and multiple students in some households, you might be talking about 3000 current GATE parents who are registered voters. We can expand that number by looking at the population of all parents who once had kids in GATE programs.
However, assuming around 3000 current GATE parents, 1000 seems like a high percentage of parents who would have to be angry enough to file a protest vote for the GATE/AIM issue alone to bring down the parcel tax.
But there are other considerations. For one thing the last three parcel taxes were passed under the threat of mass layoffs. It was a true fiscal emergency for the school district and the voters as a whole, many of whom have no children in the schools currently, stepped up to support the schools.
Times have changed. While finances remain precarious, the school board was actually able to give raises to teachers and administrators this year. We have had no calls for layoffs since 2012.
However, the resident notes that the school district is not only talking renewal in June 2016, but a COLA on top of it. They noted that there are people who believe that parcel tax should be smaller not larger, going forward, based on this consideration.
So take out the fiscal emergency, add a perceived unnecessary rate increase, and throw in a competing tax measure by the city – which would appear to be in far worse fiscal shape than the school district at the moment – and you start to have cause for concern.
There is one other factor that the resident brings up. If the district really puts a parcel tax on for June when they could wait until November, many residents will realize they have a freebie – they can have a chance to register a strong protest vote and then get a second chance to make sure that the district doesn’t lose money in November.
Add that all up and it seems entirely possible that a June parcel tax vote is doomed.
But we have believed that before, only to see the school district pull out of it. And it is certainly not too late to rectify the situation. As one reader pointed out this weekend, we have not even seen what the district administration has recommended on GATE/AIM.
Our belief remains that we need to find a way to a 5-0 vote on GATE/AIM. It is too soon to tell whether that is possible, and certainly the move against a subcommittee to forge a consensus was disconcerting.
One thing is clear – people are angry about a lot of things. What is less clear is whether and how that anger will eventually manifest itself.
—David M. Greenwald reporting