Parcel Tax on November ballot, community supporters start ‘Save Our Schools’ campaign

By Libby Leyden | 0 comments

For the second time in eight years, Scotts Valley Unified School District finds itself in a similar position—poised to ask the community to support a tax measure to prevent further cuts to our award-winning schools due to insufficient state funding.

At a special board meeting on August 1, the SVUSD board of trustees unanimously voted to place an education parcel tax measure on the ballot this November.

“Our funding is about 10 years behind in the needs we need as a district,” said Derek Timm, President of the Scotts Valley Educational Foundation and one of the volunteers leading the ‘Save our Schools’ campaign. “This parcel tax is only to cover basic services. We want to make sure we can prevent cuts to our core programs and retain the great teachers in our district.”

The education parcel tax, if approved, will translate to a $108 per owned parcel annually for a set term of five years. Senior citizens and those receiving SSI Disability benefits have the option to apply for a permanent exemption from the parcel tax. Along with the parcel tax, a citizen’s oversight committee will be tasked with ensuring funds are spent as indicated and provide an annual report on spending. This would generate an estimated $600,000 - $820,000 annually for the district to use towards maintaining core educational programs, retaining and attracting qualified teachers, and keeping up with current technology.

Why the need?

So how did a school district in one of the most affluent areas in the county end up in such a financial crisis? According to Timm, SVUSD is the ninth lowest funded school district, out of 344 K-12 districts, in the state of California. This is a fact sometimes hard for SVUSD Superintendent Tanya Krause to explain and rationalize to the Scotts Valley community who are not as familiar with public school funding.

The state of California works off a “Local Control Funding Formula,” approved in 2013 by Gov. Jerry Brown as an act intended to remedy inequities by giving districts extra money based on how many of their students were in “high-need” categories.

“Because the new funding system was set on the premise of equity vs. equality, students that needed more support and districts that had more of those types of student groups, received more moneys for those students,” Krause said. “This is why SVUSD is the lowest funded district in Santa Cruz County, because of our student demographic, we don’t qualify for those funds.”

In addition, part of the funding formula premise also looks at the community the district is in, and if that community has the financial ability to support the school district in supplemental funding.  There is a perception from the state that is what a local school district can do, and many districts in the state have done so. This funding model has resulted in SVUSD continuing to widen its gap on how much it is allocated by the state vs. what is needed to comply with state education regulations.

“So the bills are for 2018 costs, but the state revenue we are receiving is equivalent to what it would have been in 2007,” Krause said.

And despite fundraising efforts from the community, namely the Scotts Valley Educational Foundation, there is still a need from the district. According to Timm, SVEF helps raise approximately $100,000 annually but the majority of the money goes towards things like keeping libraries open at all the schools in the district. Fundraising money is restricted to what it can go towards, for example, it cannot legally be used to supplement a teacher’s salary, etc.

“So the state looks at the districts like ours and say, your option is to go get a parcel tax to fill the gap,” Timm said.

Second time around

This is not the first time Scotts Valley voters have been asked to weigh in on a similar measure. In 2012, Measure K was approved and tacked on $48 to property tax bills in Scotts Valley for three years to support SVUSD. The measure expired in 2015 with no renewal because the district had reached adequate funding levels again.

“This is the third district I have worked in, but I have never experienced a district so financially strapped.  For example, SVUSD is not able to fund art programs K-8, and minimally able to fund athletic programs by the district and you would not make that assumption in a town like Scotts Valley,” Krause said.

But despite having funding issues and turning towards another parcel tax, SVUSD schools rank in the top 10 percent in the state, with a 96 percent graduation rate for high school students.

Timm, who works as a realtor, knows a key selling point for property buyers in Scotts Valley is the awarding winning and highly regarded schools. According to Timm, the approval of the parcel tax this fall is an “investment for homeowners.”

And SVUSD is far from the only district struggling with funding issues and having to resort to parcel tax ballot measures as a final resort. Earlier this week, Santa Rosa City Schools board members were in the process of deciding if a parcel tax measure will be put on the city ballot this election cycle. If approved it would last for eight years in the hopes to raise $4 million annually. And this is only one other example, according to Timm, over 100 districts have at some point fallen back on relying on the passage of a parcel tax to meet budget needs.

“If we do not get this, the district will have to make some tough decisions,” Timm said. “It would have real world impacts and it will be painful for the schools and the community.”

Already this year, according to Krause, nearly nine full time employees were cut for this coming year and the Middle School Academy program has been discontinued for the 2018-2019 year, along with several courses at the high school.

“One of the nice things about the parcel tax is it tells the teachers they are supported by the community in the job they are doing,” Timm said. “It is valuable to everyone and it boosts moral not just dollars.”

Timm and Krause said the ‘Save our Schools’ campaign will be doing several outreach meetings with community members and groups and knocking on doors to explain why a parcel tax is needed this year. The measure cannot be approved without a two-thirds majority vote. For more information, Timm said voters can visit the campaign’s recently launched website:  www.SOSSV.net.

The full text of the education parcel tax measure is as follows: “To maintain quality core educational programs, prevent cuts in math, science, technology, reading, and the arts, attract and retain highly qualified teachers and counselors, and keep up with technology, shall “Scotts Valley Unified School District” levy an annual education parcel tax of $108 per parcel for five years, with independent community oversight, no funds for administrator salaries, pensions or benefits, senior and disabled exemptions, raising $820,000 annually in funding for “Scotts Valley Unified School District” that can’t be taken away by the State.”