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Possible parcel tax has some school districts interested

By Monica Stark
Ukiah Daily Journal
October 13, 2009

As districts are strapped for cash, there's a possible parcel tax option that has the interest of the small school districts on the coast.

If signed into law, the passage of Assemblymember Tom Torklakson's AB 267, would allow school districts to form "education finance districts." The purpose -- to raise revenue and share resources. Under the measure, each finance district must be comprised of three or more neighboring school districts. The districts would be then authorized to place a parcel tax on the ballot for voter approval provided that they agree on the division and expenditure of the revenues raised by the tax. Passage of the parcel tax would require a 2/3 vote of those residing within the "education finance districts." Currently, the bill has been sitting on the governor's desk for a few weeks now, said Torklakson's press secretary Shannon Valayas.

To Catherine Stone, superintendent of MUSD, the passage of AB 267 would help all children on the coast. "The state has continued to drastically reduce funding for all school districts so local communities are needing to step in an immediate way."

Currently, any school district can put a parcel tax on the ballot. The only difference this bill would make is that the three or more districts can come together to share their resources. It doesn't necessarily mean that the passage of a parcel tax would be any easier. "Two-thirds majority is a huge threshold to get across," said Valayas.

But Torlakson's office found that since San Francisco passed a parcel tax, they haven't been hit as hard with the statewide budget cuts. "They haven't had to increase class sizes. They haven't had to decrease the number of classes because they had that investment from the community," Valayas said. Further the bill enables an education finance district to share busing, food preparation, business management, and special education so they avoid duplication and could save money. The amount that the parcel tax would be considered is up to the districts.

Sharing resources isn't anything new to Fort Bragg, Manchester, Point Arena and Mendocino, said Stone. "We are always looking at ways to share. We don't have a nurse, but Point Arena does, so we can purchase her time. We offer computer tech help to Manchester. If Manchester's bus breaks down, Mendocino lends them one." So what would they do if a parcel tax actually did go into effect? "We would be able to preserve services, library services, music or art instruction, lower class sizes. This is just a bill but it's such a better way to go about it than individual districts passing taxes (which would result in inequities between the districts)."

The 2/3 majority is a huge threshold interested districts would have to get across. "But by combining (the district) it allows them to pool resources so they can have the discussion with voters about whether they would support something like this and what it would go towards. We found that conversation with voters is critical."

Just last summer, Torlakson held hearings across state and found out that some districts that put a parcel tax on the ballot just missed the 2/3 majority. "Unfortunately, those were the ones that needed it most."

Said Valayas, "voters will decide if they want to make that investment. This bill is about local control and letting communities decide."

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