In the aftermath of a bruising year-long labor dispute with teachers, the board of the West Sonoma County Union High School District voted unanimously on Nov. 20 to add a $79 parcel tax measure to the March 2020 ballot. The measure will raise approximately $1.81 million a year for the next eight years if passed.
Part of that tax will be used to pay for a 4% salary increase for teachers in the 2021-22 school year, which the district recently agreed to in its settlement with the teachers union.
According to the proposed ballot measure, the parcel tax money will be used to:
- maintain and improve the school’s woodshop, culinary, media and other career technical education programs;
- maintain and improve the schools’ art, music and drama programs;
- support certificated and classified salary increases;
- maintain small class sizes;
- maintain and expand student counseling services;
- maintain and improve the schools’ college prep programs;
- improve technology and science equipment.
Like all parcel taxes in California, this one must pass by a two-thirds vote. To increase the likelihood of its passing, the measure includes three major exemptions: one for senior citizens; one for those receiving supplemental security income (SSI) for a disability; and an exemption for contiguous parcels. These exemptions are not automatic and must be applied for individually.
The cost of putting a measure on the ballot is unclear as of yet, but Chief Budget Officer Mary Schafer said that the last time the district put a measure on the ballot — last year’s bond measure — it cost the district between $40,000 to $50,000.
West county has traditionally been supportive of school improvement measures, but it’s been a rough year for the high school district. The district will be working in partnership with teachers and several local parent groups to sell the parcel tax to what some worry, in the aftermath of the strike, will be a skeptical community.
“I know that our teachers have had a lot of support over the last couple weeks,” school board member Kellie Noe said, referring to the outpouring of community support the teachers received during their strike. “I look forward to exploring how we can frame this and build a partnership and look at a co-leadership model of how we move the parcel tax forward … I think it would be a really powerful strategy for people to clearly see us all working together.”
Adam Parks, from the recently formed parent watchdog organization, the West Sonoma County Schools Community Action Coalition, pledged his group’s support for the parcel tax.
“We’ve got the momentum,” he said, urging the district to move ahead with the parcel tax campaign as quickly as possible. “We will work to get out the vote. We’ll get the people who don’t normally vote out to vote.”
The district arrived at the $79 figure for the parcel tax based on the recommendation of campaign consultant Greg Isom back in June, based on polling done in March.
Given all that’s transpired since then, the board directed Superintendent Toni Beal to ask Isom to conduct another poll to re-take the public’s temperature and its tolerance for various parcel tax amounts. Isom, whom Beal texted during the board meeting, said he’ll do a new telephone poll in west county right away — immediately before and after Thanksgiving.
“There’s a lot that has changed since we did the poll in April,” Noe said. “It would be awesome to be able to have new data,” to base a final number on.
Political consultant Dennis Rosatti, who ran three successful fire district parcel tax campaigns this fall, warned the board that the timeframe for their campaign was extremely tight.
“You’ve got 103 days before the election,” he said, noting that mail-in voting starts in 70 days.
The district needs to turn its election paperwork in to the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters by Dec. 6. According to Rosatti, it then has five days to make any revisions.
A lot is riding on this parcel tax — not merely the financial solvency of the district but a big chunk, one third, of the raise the teachers fought to attain this year.
“I am absolutely in favor of this parcel tax,” school board member Lori Bruhner said. “We all need it, and our kids need it. The community at large needs to understand that.”