The biggest challenge to ballot Measures W and X may be California election law. To pass, the two parcel taxes, which would provide much-needed funding to the S.B. school district, require two-thirds majorities. But there is no organized political opposition to the initiatives while a host of organizations and government officials — including the mayors of Santa Barbara and Goleta, the 1st through 3rd districts’ supervisors, and Congressmember Lois Capps — have lined up behind the four-year tax, which, if it passes, would raise about $16 million for the school districts.
Measures W and X are essentially extensions of two similar measures — H and I — that passed in 2008 and will expire at the end of June 2013, at which point the new taxes would kick in. A parcel tax is a lump-sum annual fee for property owners. (Senior citizens can apply for an exemption.) The H and I fees were $23 and $27 per year respectively. W and X ask for $54 each.
The money raised cannot be used for administrative purposes and would be monitored by a citizen oversight committee. The purpose of Measure W is to reduce class sizes and fund teachers in math, science, technology, music, arts, theater, and foreign language classes in secondary schools. It would also provide funding for career technical classes, an addition to the mandate of Measure H.
Measure X funds would be directed toward elementary schools, specifically for offering music and performing arts programs and enhancing math and science education while supplying computer and educational technology for students.
Superintendent David Cash stresses that parcel-tax funds are controlled locally and “not subject to the whims of Sacramento.” It is money the district can count on — for at least four years. In the past five years, the Santa Barbara district has cut more than $20 million.
“Decimated is not too strong a word” to describe the state of public education in California, said 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal at a press conference supporting Measures X and Y. The father of an 11-year-old at Roosevelt, Carbajal said his own son has benefited from Measure I. When it comes to community support for education in the Santa Barbara area, “We walk the walk,” said the supervisor.
Capps, a former school nurse in the district, also lent her voice to the campaign for the two parcel taxes. “There’s not a person in this community who isn’t affected” by the education crisis, she said.
Turnout will be key to the success of the parcel taxes. H and I, which passed with 70.68 and 71.57 percent of the vote, were on the November ballot in 2008 and rode the coattails of a presidential election. Neither is the case this time around. Furthermore, while the recession was incipient in 2008, voters have now weathered years of a bad economy and may be feeling less generous. On the other hand, because of the lean years, schools can use local funding more than ever.
“We can not afford to miss by one percent,” said the executive director of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, Margie Yahyavi.