As a parent of district students for the last 12 years, I have seen the difference our parcel tax has made on our students and teachers. The June 5 election is just around the corner, and unfortunately for our students there has been a lot of misinformation about the parcel tax.
The voter information booklet includes an argument against Measure K that states that "parcel tax payments are not deductible against federal and state income taxes. The State has announced that beginning in 2012, they will enforce that non-deductibility." The Franchise Tax Board clarified on Friday, April 13, 2012 that this was not the case, and that the IRS has confirmed that homeowners can deduct parcel taxes and other taxes that are not ad-valorem. The existing parcel tax and Measure K (which will replace it) are tax-deductible.
Additionally, a local editorial stated that “the district underestimated the tax rate increase needed to pay off bonds for seismic upgrades, and that we will soon pay one of the highest school bond tax rates in the state.” It is inaccurate, and not directly related to the parcel tax. The district estimated the growth in assessed values would be 4% for our bond measures, when the prior ten years had been over 6% annually; no one ever had anticipated that the assessed value would decline by 20% in two years. Despite the sharp downturn in assessed valuation, the District has kept the tax rate below the promised levels for all of the bond measures. This demonstrates the good stewardship of the District because nearly every other district has had to raise taxes above the limit. Straddling the Hayward fault, our public schools needed to be safe and the bond measures have assured that.
The same editorial referred to a “first parcel tax” of $72 per parcel for “ongoing expenditures” presenting the illusion that an earlier parcel tax created in 1994 benefits classrooms, teachers and students. The district created a Maintenance and Recreation Assessment District (MRAD) in 1994 as a parcel tax to pay for the maintenance of grounds and outdoor facilities for the purpose of public use. None of those funds can be used for ongoing expenditures in the classroom or for teacher salaries. In 1996, residents voted to continue levying that tax, contrary to another comment in the voter information booklet.
Voters need to be informed. Things had looked pretty grim in 2004 when the district voted to stop funding libraries, sports, counselors and increase class sizes. With 71 percent of voter support, residents passed the first and only parcel tax to support programs. It was renewed in 2008 with 79.4 percent of the votes, and will sunset at the end of next school year. As a result, teacher layoff notices have already been issued, but if the parcel tax passes, those will be rescinded.
The parcel tax has had positive results, and with citizen oversight, all of the funds have been spent as promised: API scores have been continuously improving. The percent of WCCUSD graduates who go to 2- or 4-year colleges has gone from 45 percent to 82 percent. Counselors can be a lifeline for students struggling with difficult home situations. School libraries provide young students with a love of reading, and provide older students with the tools to explore opportunities and develop interests. Smaller class sizes allow teachers to effectively manage the varying skill levels of their students.
In 2004, there was a media firestorm about cutting sports in the district. The Oakland A’s held a one-game fundraising event; the campaign benefitted from appearances by Coach Carter, the Richmond Oiler coach from the '90s who had just recently been portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson. But now, the public has become so desensitized to cuts, that the possible elimination of athletics hasn’t caused a ripple, never mind a wave of outrage. The banners that circle our high school gymnasiums could become nostalgic mementos of the past. High school athletics are often the primary motivator for students to perform in school and remain actively engaged.
The renewal of the parcel tax is critical. Over the last 4 years, WCCUSD has lost $40 million in state and federal funding. Most taxpayers are paying less to the government – either through the reduced vehicle license fees that Arnold promised, or the tax cuts enacted by the federal government. As a result, WCCUSD students are getting less. To offset just a portion those losses, Measure K would slightly increase the renewal by roughly $40 a parcel, with the largest payments coming from businesses like Chevron. That increase will now fund smaller class sizes in middle and high school, in addition to the elementary grades. Measure K provides increased support for science labs, technology training, after-school programs that can reduce gang activity and improving safety. Senior citizens are exempt from the parcel tax; an exemption form can be found at the district’s website or by calling the business office at 231-1170.
These are the facts. Please join me, and other informed voters, in supporting Measure K by voting Yes on June 5.
Karen Shebek is the parent of two West Contra Costa Unified School District students.
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