22 Aug 2014
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School Board Takes Step Toward New Parcel Tax Measure in November

At a special Monday night meeting in El Cerrito, the West Contra Costa school board voted 4-0 to survey public opinion on another possible parcel tax election. The proposed Measure K parcel tax for schools narrowly lost in last month's election.

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The West Contra Costa Unified School District board voted Monday night to conduct a survey to gauge support for a parcel tax measure on the November ballot.

The vote was 4-0, with Elaine Merriweather absent.

Superintendent Bruce Harter opened the discussion by asking the board to consider whether to pursue a parcel tax, which would raise money for operations, or a bond measure, which would raise money to rebuild schools not covered by earlier bond measures, or both. Also up for discussion was when a measure should go on the ballot.

Thirty-two people spoke on the item at , held at Harding Elementary School in El Cerrito. The majority of the speakers urged the board to make academic concerns like keeping classes as small as possible and retaining programs such as libraries the priority by pursuing a parcel tax. Although several noted that buildings are important too, no one spoke in favor of a bond measure only at this time or of putting both on the ballot at the same time.

The schools listed at the board meeting and in the agenda as still needing to be upgraded are Grant, Olinda, Shannon, Kennedy, Lake, Collins, and Crespi. All but the last two were slated for closure at one time, but the agenda notes “with a projection for stable to increased enrollment and with the current favorable bidding market” that the district may want to now consider upgrading them. (The agenda is attached to this article.)

Board member Tony Thurmond thanked the community for turning out for the meeting and suggested that it was helpful to have held a meeting in a different location than the usual one (DeJean Middle School in Richmond). He and member Antonio Medrano called for hosting town-hall type meetings in other parts of the district such as Pinole and Hercules to give residents there a chance to share their views.

Measure K, the parcel tax measure that narrowly missed the required two-thirds on the June ballot with , garnered much stronger support in the southern end of the district than in the northern. Several speakers urged the board to look carefully at why Measure K fell short, including why support was weaker in Pinole and Hercules than in El Cerrito and Kensington. (A table showing Measure K results by community can be found at the bottom of this article.)

“What have you learned from the defeat of Measure K?” asked the first speaker, Kensington parent Leslie Reckler.

Some speakers suggested the survey focus on finding out more about the concerns of residents in the northern part of the district and gaining their support.

 “I know why Pinole, Hercules, El Sobrante and San Pablo did not pass this,” said Jeff Rubin of Pinole. Residents of the northern part of the distrct, he said, “are fed up with the pathetic academic performance of their children.”

While board members appeared supportive of a November parcel tax measure, the actual vote is expected Aug. 1, after the survey results are available and before an Aug. 10 deadline.

Some speakers suggested that the school district run a different type of campaign this time, with fewer big donations and slick fliers and more small contributions and grassroots campaigning by parents and other community members.

“I think we need a different strategy,” said Kensington parent Anna Porter.

Michael Parker of Richmond told the board that the campaign must get out the message that “the future of our community is at stake.”

“We cannot depend on the state to fund our schools,” said retired teacher Eduardo Martinez of Richmond. “We can only depend on ourselves.” He called for more face-to-face campaigning, with parents going “anywhere, everywhere,” including PTA and City Council meetings.

Board President Charles Ramsey, who has done the bulk of the fundraising for the bond and parcel tax measures in recent years, agreed to support the consensus of the board and speakers in voting to support the survey but suggested people may be “romanticizing” grassroots campaigning. He noted the difficulty of running a campaign in a largely low-income district spread over five cities plus unincorporated areas.  He said the campaign will have little choice but to run a different kind of campaign, because with so many recent school campaigns he doesn’t expect this one to draw the amount of contributions past efforts have.

One of the last speakers was George Harris, a former school board member who moved to San Diego in 2005 and was in the area to visit family.  “After a close defeat," said Harris, “no one takes it harder than board members." He recalled that the district came back to pass a parcel tax in 2004 right after a failed measure.

Final results of Measure K

These community totals and percent approval rates were tabulated by Patch from precinct-by-precinct totals listed in the elections results reports on the Contra Costa County Elections Division Web site.

Yes No Total % Yes Kensington 1755 382 2137 82.12 El Cerrito 4764 1804 6568 72.53 Richmond 8828 4345 13173 67.02 San Pablo 1431 753 2184 65.52 El Sobrante 1304 1006 2310 56.45 Hercules 2001 1632 3633 55.08 Pinole 2013 1674 3687 54.60 All voters 23928 12594 36522 65.52

Note: the totals for all voters are greater than for the seven communities combined because they include unincorporated areas that are not part of these seven jurisdictions.

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