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Apr 28 / Jonathan

CUSD Measure S Parcel Tax: Argument Against

In the previous post, we reviewed the ballot argument for Measure S, and its rebuttal. Here we look at the argument for the measure, and its rebuttal. See this post for an overview of CUSD’s latest parcel tax request.

Arguments Against Measure S
Cabrillo Unified School District wants another $875 from local homeowners with this proposed tax. Worse yet, they plan to spend the money on operating expenses. Will they ask for more when this tax expires? What do you think?

The argument is referring to the total run of the proposed parcel tax: $175/year for five years is $875.

The school district pleads poverty, but what do its financial reports show?

Data from www.ed-data.k12.ca.us:
1993-4 2003-4 Increase (%)
Revenue (in $millions) 14.1 23.5 66
Number of Students (ADA) 3430 3600 5
Books,Supplies/Student ($) 184 215 17
Employee Salaries, Benefits
(in $millions)
11.7 20.4 74

Inflation over that time was just 27%. And in 1994, we still had school buses!

These numbers are correct, though the urban CPI increase in the SF Bay Area is a more appropriate figure for inflation, and is 34% rather than 27%. The share of revenue going to employee expenses has risen over time, and is due at least in part to higher benefit costs–especially for health care.

Ten years ago, voters gave the school district a $35 million bond for an “urgently needed” middle school. We’re still waiting for it.

Much of the 1996 Measure K bond money has been spent on facilities improvements at all the CUSD sites, including the middle school, and the middle school rebuild is finally under way. It’s true that a new middle school was an explicit goal of Measure K, and that it appears that it will ultimately have taken 15 years from the passage of the bond to complete the middle school.

On the hand, the urgency of the new middle school was substantially reduced as enrollment unexpectedly shrank, and the barriers to spending the parcel tax proceeds are much lower than those to building a new school.

Throwing more money at this district will make things worse, not better.

Local taxpayers already fund students generously ($4427 here versus $2115 statewide, in local taxes per student, 2003-4). And if the district ever gets around to spending its $35 million bond money, we’ll pay for that, too.

Much of the bond has in fact been spent on facilities improvements, and we’re paying for the entire bond regardless. Because much of our school funding comes from the state general fund, local taxes per student is not a particularly useful statistic.

Tell them: Enough is enough.

VOTE NO ON MEASURE S

/s/ Donald F. Pettengill, March 17, 2006, Treasurer, Coastside Citizens for Good Government

Rebuttal to Arguments Against

Like anything else, if we want great schools, we have to invest in them.

Our opponent is right + operating a school district costs more today than in 1993. Years of cutbacks in state funding in the face of rising costs continue to challenge our local schools financially.

Actually, district revenue per student has more than kept pace with increasing costs (ie inflation). Funding may not be adequate, but it has kept pace with costs.

Proponents of Measure S argue separately that health benefit costs have risen faster than overall inflation, and additionally that district revenue has fallen compared to anticipated revenue, if not compared to actual historical revenue.

Funding formulas based on geographics mean that Coastside schools receive less funding than the statewide average and 30-50% less than wealthier districts over the hill. Consequently, our schools struggle to retain experienced teachers and support excellent academics. Coastside schools nonetheless are moving in the right direction.

CUSD receives about 92% of the average per-student funding across California unified school districts. The proposed tax will lift it to about 97% of average.

This figure may be misleading, though, because Bay Area living costs are considerably higher that the state average, and living costs (in the form of employee salaries and benefits) account for over 80% of the district’s operating budget. Additionally, when cost of living is taken into consideration, California ranks near the bottom of school funding nationwide, so the California average is not in itself a very ambitious target.

Groundbreaking for the new Cunha Middle School has begun.

A slight exaggeration. While a groundbreaking ceremony has been held, actual construction is not likely to begin for another year or so. However, architectural work is well under way, and it looks like the school will actually be built, albeit much later than originally planned.

Student performance is strong and demonstrates sustained improvement over the past six years in the Academic Performance Index (API), a statewide system for measuring scholastic achievement.

To ensure the academic excellence our students need to succeed in a competitive, demanding, and rapidly changing world, we need Measure S.

Measure S supports high-priority academic needs by focusing on excellent teachers, smaller class sizes, and basic and advanced academic programs, including additional classes in science, math, technology and literacy.

Independent annual audits will provide strict accountability. Measure S funds are controlled locally and cannot be taken by the state.

The bottom line + Measure S will help students meet and exceed high academic standards. That’s a goal we all can agree on.

Please Vote Yes on Measure S.

/s/ Lenny Mendonca March 24, 2006, Chair, Bay Area Economic Forum
/s/ Ellen Wright March 24, 2006, Former Chair, California Commission on Academic Standards
/s/ Jerry Trenter March 24, 2006, Science Teacher at Cunha Middle School
/s/ Charise McHugh March 24, 2006, President & CEO, Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau
/s/ Kevin Lansing March 27, 2006, Senior Economist

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