Vote unanimous to support Measure P’s $89 per parcel for local schools
By Nao Braverman
With more than $1 million cut from the Ojai Unified School District’s annual budget, local officials publicly agreed at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, that they believe the community needs to step up and take care of its own schools.
Council members voted in unanimous support of Measure P, which would allow the school district to levy a tax of $89 per parcel within the district boundaries for seven years. The measure, intended to bring the school district out of a devastating financial crisis, is the school district’s last resort, according to school board President Steve Fields.
“We have come to the end of our road,” he said. “We spent much of last spring holding public meetings to discuss potential cuts needed to close this year’s budget gap. We made significant cuts to many areas, including transportation and food service. We were able to keep all of our community schools open and maintain our class sizes. I don’t see how we can make any more cuts this coming year that won’t dramatically impact our children’s education.”
School district officials estimate that the parcel tax could bring in around $400,500 each year for the district’s depleted budget, although the estimate is very rough, said Mike Caldwell, chairman of the committee to get Measure P passed.
The numbers are hard to estimate since the proposed parcel tax would offer an exemption to seniors 65 years and older. With roughly 9,000 parcels in the district boundaries, the school board estimated that about half of them are seniors. That gives them a ballpark figure of about 4,500 parcels at $89 per parcel. The seniors who want the exemption would have to take the initiative to apply for it themselves.
But Caldwell says it was important to allow seniors, particularly those who are on a fixed income or are living solely on Social Security, to opt out.
When a parcel tax measure for the school district failed to pass about three and a half years ago, that was partially because many local seniors campaigned against it, he said. The previous measure proposed a higher parcel tax of $150 per parcel, he said.
“This measure is asking for a very minimal number compared to the current needs of the school district,” said Caldwell.
But Measure P’s proponents are making it as digestible as possible since it needs a two-thirds majority vote to get passed.
With the school district facing financial shortfalls because of the compounded results of the dramatic drop in enrollment and unreliable state and federal funding, the parcel tax the need for funds is urgent, said Fields.
“I know some people question supporting a parcel tax if they don’t have children in the school district,” said Fields. “However, I believe strongly that a community cannot be a healthy vibrant community without a good school system. Good schools maintain property values. Good schools provide workers for our local businesses. And good schools ensure that our next generation will be able to tackle the huge issues that they surely face.”
The school district has already made dramatic cuts in administration and staff and has seen salaries fall in comparison with others throughout the county, said Fields. While the Save Ojai Schools campaign and Ojai Education Foundation have raised considerable funds, they are not enough to maintain the quality education that the school district has offered to local students to this date.
The measure states that it is proposed in order to maintain small class sizes with highly qualified teachers, and keep the existing arts programs, libraries and schools, all which would be in jeopardy without additional funds, according to Fields.
“Clearly this is an issue that faces our community that is of utmost importance,” said Mayor Sue Horgan. “The school board members have done a great job at trying to manage this impossible situation. It is going to take a two-thirds vote to pass, which is difficult to accomplish. I believe so strongly in this important measure.”
Council members agreed and a motion to support the measure was passed unanimously.