CUSD Measure S Parcel Tax: Argument For

(See the previous post for an overview of Measure S, CUSD’s latest parcel tax request.)

In this post, we look at the ballot argument for Measure S, along with its rebuttal. My intention is to refrain from taking sides, but to clarify ambiguous or potentially misleading language in the Measure S ballot arguments. Feel free to comment here or by email; I’ll update these posts as needed.

Arguments For Measure S
Measure S is needed for two priorities: great teachers and great academics.

Measure S will fund additional teachers and important academic classes and programs in order to improve student achievement in the classroom:

Measure S will:

  • Help recruit and retain qualified, experienced teachers;

This description differs somewhat from that of the actual measure, more clearly suggesting that tax proceeds will be used for teacher salary increases, as opposed to in-service training. The ballot language, not the ballot argument, is controlling, though.

  • Strengthen students’ academic foundation by adding additional classes in science, math, technology and literacy;
  • Guarantee small class sizes from kindergarten until third grade so young students get individualized instruction;

K-3 class size reduction (CSR) is already funded, and is unlikely to lose its funding. This provision raises the question of what the existing $540,000 in K-3 CSR funding would be used for if the tax proceeds were used instead to fund CSR.

Measure S proponents have suggested privately that $120,000 in School Improvement Plan (SIP) funding now being diverted to CSR would be returned to the site councils to be spent on more traditional SIP purposes (classroom aides, librarians, technology coordinators, etc). This is reasonable, but should have been specified in the measure.

  • Reduce class sizes in middle and high schools to improve student achievement;
  • Help teachers continue to improve by funding staff training programs;
  • Provide funding for books

All Measure S funds will be used locally to improve schools in the Coastside and Kings Mountain communities. No funds can be taken by the state. Independent annual audits will provide strict accountability over the use of these public funds.

Our local schools strive to provide excellent teachers in every classroom.

We have dedicated and creative teachers, but our schools struggle to compete with neighboring districts “over the hill,” which can hire more teachers, support more programs and offer higher salaries. Years of state funding cuts, rising costs and mandates have eroded our district’s ability to fund the academic programs our students need to succeed in a competitive world.

Costs have risen, of course, but “years of state funding cuts” is somewhat misleading. CUSD’s per-student revenue, adjusted for inflation, has increased more than 20% in the last 10 years, though last five years have been essentially flat, increasing only 1%. In that period, services such as busing have been cut, so that the revenue available to be spent in the classroom has increased even faster.

State funding may well be inadequate, but it has been rising, not falling.

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.

By focusing more resources on additional teachers, basic and advanced academic programs, and smaller class sizes, Measure S will make it easier for students to learn and teachers to teach, thereby improving students’ success in meeting and exceeding academic standards.

Measure S also offers senior citizen exemptions. The measure automatically expires in five years and can’t be extended without voter approval.

We support Measure S for our children, our community and our future. On the Coastside, we deserve great schools. Please vote Yes on Measure S!

/s/ Victor S. Tigerman, March 15, 2006, Senior Coastsider
/s/ Cameron K. Palmer, March 16, 2006, Half Moon Bay Business owner
/s/ John H. Muller, March 16, 2006, Farmer
/s/ April A. Vargas, March 15, 2006, Environmental Activist
/s/ Jayne Battey, March 17, 2006, Parent Volunteer, Half Moon Bay High School & Cunha Intermediate School

Rebuttal to Arguments For
“Years of state funding cuts”? Look at state funding trends:

State K-12 Budget (General fund, billions)
1999-0 2001-2 2002-3 2003-4 2004-5 2005-6 2006-7
$27.5 $30.6 $30.7 $29.3 $34.0 $36.5 $39.8

These figures are misleading. It would be more fair to present inflation-adjusted per-student funding. As we’ve noted above, inflation-adjusted revenue per student has risen about 20% over the last 10 years, and 1% over the last five. It is neither falling, as claimed by the proponents of Measure S, nor rising as fast as its opponents suggest.

A parcel tax now, as state funding ramps up, is unnecessary. In 1994, California spent “only” $15.6 billion for K-14. These long-term increases are huge, but throwing money at our schools’ problems hasn’t worked; reform is what’s needed. And that’s the exact opposite of Measure S:

“Recruit and retain qualified, experienced teachers” – business as usual. How about, instead, paying teachers for performance, rather than longevity? Paying teachers in short supply (math, science) more? Paying AP teachers more than elementary school teachers?

“Reduce class sizes in middle and high schools” – popular with teachers and their unions, but studies show class size is far less important than teacher quality + which will be lowered to find the extra teachers needed! Other countries choose larger classes + and better teachers. American 12th graders were dead last in Physics and tied for last place in Math, in the 1998 TIMSS.

It is correct that there is little if any hard evidence that K-3 class size reduction, now nearly universal in California, has had a measurable effect on student performance. On the other hand, it’s clear that CUSD class sizes in the upper grades are often very large, with middle school teachers often seeing 160 or more students per day.

These are complex questions that are not likely to be resolved in the ballot arguments over a parcel tax measure.

“Provide funding for books” – As usual, at the bottom of the heap. Cabrillo Unified School District has seen huge increases in funding, but we’ve seen little for it + as with the middle school bond debacle, or the ending of student busing. Until voters insist upon fiscal responsibility and meaningful reforms, district schools won’t improve for our children.

Send a clear message: Vote NO on Measure S!

/s/ Donald F. Pettengill, March 27, 2006, Treasurer, Coastside Citizens for Good Government

Regardless of revenue trends, which neither the proponents nor opponents of Measure S represent as accurately as they might, the critical question is whether current funding levels are adequate, and the extent to which the proposed 5% increase will significantly improve the quality of education in the district. The two sides obviously disagree, but neither presents much in the way of supporting evidence.

District revenue (inflation-adjusted, per student) has risen 20% in the last ten years, and CUSD receives about 92% of the statewide average funding for unified school districts. School funding in California is low compared to other states, especially when taking our cost of living into account, and the cost of living in the Bay Area is higher than the California average.

How serious this funding problem is, and whether Measure S is the appropriate means to address it, must be answered by the voters on June 6.

Next: the argument against Measure S, and its rebuttal.

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