School Districts Seek Local Funds to Stem Budget Shortfalls
From St. Helena to Morgan Hill, Burlingame to San Leandro, Bay Area school districts are asking voters to be very generous on November 6.
It's not just about Propositions 30 and 38, both of which offer the promise of more school funding. School districts around the state have also put more than 100 bonds and parcel taxes on the ballot, with at least 23 here in the Bay Area.
KQED's Cy Musiker spoke with John Fensterwald, editor of EdSource Today, an online site for education news and commentary, about what's driving the multitude of school tax measures.
JOHN FENSTERWALD: Well, it’s been substantial cuts in school budgets of real dollars by 11 percent for the past several years and that doesn’t even begin to measure the real impact on program and students and as well, with regard to school construction, there has been some deferred maintenance and local voters want to not sit around and wait for the State. They want to take matter into their own hands and go local.
MUSIKER: Yes. Parcel taxes require a two-third majority; Most school bonds, 55 percent. What’s been the success rate for school district, for those measures in the past few years?
FENSTERWALD: Historically, bonds have passed school construction bonds at about 80 percent and parcel taxes at around 60 percent, even though it requires two-third, which is a high threshold, but this year, it’s actually been higher, it’s been around 70 percent of the 19 parcel taxes that’s been on the various ballots so far this year. There is actually more bonds and parcel taxes in this November than there have been in the previous four November elections. It’s 106 school construction bonds, 25 parcel taxes, which is a high number.
MUSIKER: A recent poll shows Prop. 30 falling bellow the 50 percent approval mark. Does that tell us anything about what voters may do with these local parcel taxes and bond measures, maybe not according to the statistic you were just citing?
FENSTERWALD: You know, it’s interesting because Prop. 30, there is a stale tax component but basically it would increase the progressive income tax, most folks would not pay it. But the parcel tax is sort of a regressive tax, everybody pays the same amount, no matter what you have, a big mansion or a cottage. So in that sense, it’s regressive and yet voters consistently approve those, so I think it’s an indication that voters in their own district want to go local and have more control over tax and for whatever reasons, are suspicious of state taxes.
MUSIKER: I notice that the parcel tax for the Davis Joint Unified School District, that’s in both Solano and Yolo Counties, would be about $200 a parcel and would take effect only if Prop. 30 fails, good tactic?
FENSTERWALD: That’s a shrewd tactic. That’s unusual. I hadn’t seen that before then again, state taxes hadn’t been on the ballot either. One more thought with regard to parcel tax, because I don’t want to create a misimpression. There are only about a hundred districts that have approved parcel taxes state wide, that’s about 10 percent. Many of these are in the Bay Area. Traditionally, parcel taxes have been more long the wealthier communities in the Bay Area, so there are huge parts of California that have never tried to pass a parcel tax or, as they have, about 50 percent of them failed.
MUSIKER: So, in this case, perhaps Davis is trying to edge its space and get voters to say, “well, what the heck, this may not even take effect.”
FENSTERWALD: Interesting leverage.
MUSIKER: The Mercury News today reported that if Prop. 30 and Prop. 38 failed, the two school tax measures on the ballot, school districts would likely have to pay a higher interest in the bond they sell. What might that do to the financial health of some districts?
FENSTERWALD: Well, I think it’s going to lower their rating; I think it’s inevitable and again, this is not a one-year problem. Many districts have had their ratings lowered already and we are facing some really substantial difficulties and some districts, no doubt, will face some solvency. I think the credit rating is related to that because districts have to balance budgets three years, the current years and two years ahead, and that’s getting very very difficult to do.
MUSIKER: Thanks so much for talking to us.
FENSTERWALD: Thank you, Cy.