After a heartbreaking campaign in which two parcel taxes for elementary and secondary schools in the Santa Barbara district failed by about 100 and 700 votes, the school board decided last night to give it one more try. They unanimously approved two new measures with lowered price tags. The new measures will ask for $48 for elementary schools and $45 for secondary schools. Those on the June ballot, W and X, asked for $54 each.
At a special meeting last Wednesday, members of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, which ran the campaign for measures W and X, strongly advocated for keeping the same price tag on the new measures. The demographics of the general election will be much more favorable to the passage of the measures, which already almost reached the two-thirds threshold necessary to implement a tax, they argued. They also felt that changing the price tag would complicate their campaign, which would now have to explain the change.
Tuesday night was a veritable love fest, however. Superintendent David Cash went out of his way to publicly thank the foundation for all of its hard work, and Sal Guereña, incoming president of the foundation, assured, “I just want to say the Education Foundation stands united with the school board and the school district.” No matter the price tag, current President Lynn Rodriquez said, the foundation will campaign for the new measures.
At the end of last Wednesday’s meeting, the board seemed to have settled on $45 for elementary schools and $43 for secondary schools, but they were willing to slap on a few extra bucks Tuesday night. They were partially motivated by the fact that they had just adopted a budget that projects two more years of deficit spending from the general fund and just barely keeps a state-mandated 3-percent cash reserve. Members noted that the district is down to one electrician, one plumber, and one painter for 15,000 students spread across 20 sites. (The parcel taxes, which are directed at the classroom, would not address those issues.)
While trustees Monique Limón and Annette Cordero desired the highest asking price possible, Board President Susan Christol Deacon said she discussed the matter with pollster Bryan Godbe, who advised the district when it crafted W and X, and he felt that that it was important to signal to dissenting voters that their voice was heard. Trustee Kate Parker also looked at other school districts in the state that recently lost parcel-tax measures and put new ones on the very next ballot. Except for two, they all lowered the amount. The two that didn’t failed to pass their measures. Parker and Deacon maintained that they’d like the total amount of both taxes to come in under the psychological barrier of $100.
Trustee Ed Heron expressed concern that the district reach out to those who had — or those who will — oppose parcel taxes, but he never threw out a dollar amount. In the end, he voted with the rest of the board.
Aside from the size of the parcel tax, the board worked to change the language of the ballot measure. Brian Robinson, a foundation boardmember who crafts tax measures as part of his day job as a political consultant, had expressed concern about a rough draft shared by Deacon last week, so he helped the board tweak the language — which must come in at 75 or fewer words — to emphasize that the new taxes will replace existing ones that expire in June 2013, that the funding is local and “can’t be taken away by the state,” and that the tax revenue is supervised by an independent citizen oversight committee.
While the parcel taxes are getting a makeover for the fall season, the political calculus will change, as well. They will fight for voters’ pocketbooks with two statewide revenue measures and, pols expect, will face more organized opposition.