Publication Date: Friday, March 07, 2003
School tax heads to ballot School tax heads to ballot
(March 07, 2003)
By Julie O'Shea
The Mountain View-Whisman School Board will try in June to pass a $2.5 million parcel tax measure.
The board Tuesday unanimously approved putting the measure on a special election ballot to help cushion the blow of statewide budget cuts.
The proposed tax would have property owners pay 5 cents per square foot on buildings and property improvements each year over the next five years.
If passed by a two-thirds vote on June 3, the tax would cost the average Mountain View homeowner about $70 a year. Senior citizens could apply for an exemption.
An Oakland-based consultant hired by the district estimated the tax would generate about $2.5 million a year that will go toward teacher salaries, class size reduction and music and arts programs. The district could start collecting money in early 2004 if the tax passes
The 4,400-pupil elementary and middle school district, which has an operating budget of about $30 million, has earmarked around $200,000 for the parcel tax campaign, according to a report by Superintendent Jim Negri.
"It takes lots of money to run an election, and it takes lots of money to win an election," Trustee Gloria Higgins said.
Higgins is helping spearhead the parcel tax campaign. She said she will work with other volunteers to run "a good, old-fashioned" campaign that will include get-out-the-vote calls, mailings and precinct walking.
Residents at the Tuesday meeting seemed generally in favor of the proposal, but some business owners expressed concern that the tax didn't include a price cap. They worried they'd be forced to pay the "lion's share" of the tax and asked trustees to rethink the ballot language before approving it.
But the 5-0 vote came without much discussion on the point. Negri said residents could appeal their concerns to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, which would print a rebuttal to the tax measure in the ballot.
"I think we have a very good chance of winning," Charles Heath, a public mobilization consultant, told school trustees Tuesday. "Poll results are fairly clear. ... Our support is strong."
Sixty-nine percent of the 400 district voters polled by Heath's firm said they would support a parcel tax if it cost them less than $100 a year. Fifty-seven percent said they'd want to see the money go toward services and programs that would otherwise be cut.
The tax is "very consistent with what other school districts have done," Heath said.
But last year the Los Altos School District had a tough time mobilizing enough voter support for a $333 parcel tax that lost in a special April election only to win on a second try in November. Only 8,172 cast a vote in Los Altos' April election. There are 29,515 registered voters in the Mountain View Whisman School District, according to the county election Web site.
While the Mountain View board was meeting Tuesday night, voters in the Cabrillo Unified School District on the San Mateo County coast soundly defeated a $250-per-parcel tax, with nearly 65 percent of voters in opposition.
Heath, however, said he doesn't feel a June election will be a disadvantage to Mountain View-Whisman, especially when pre-campaign polls show 47 percent of residents feel the district is in dire need of more cash.
"I like 5 cents because it's a nice round number we can all identify with," said Trustee Rose Filicetti.
"I think a parcel tax is a small sacrifice to make for a quality education," Higgins added.
E-mail Julie O?Shea at email@example.com.