Parcel tax in schools future?
Helen Marsh keeps throwing around the “p” word.
At Tuesday night’s Sonoma Valley Unified School District board meeting, board President Gary DeSmet also used the “p” word.
“P” as in “parcel tax,” a concept that may be on the horizon again.
The board is set to make nearly $2.6 million in cuts at next Tuesday’s meeting, and that probably won’t be the end of cuts this year. The state has told the district to prepare for $375,000 in mid-year cuts, and while the district has the money to cover those cuts this year, it will put an additional $375,000 hole in next year’s budget.
At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese warned the board that the cuts aren’t over.
Frese said an early analysis of the governor’s budget doesn’t hold the promise of any new money, even if the governor’s proposed tax package is approved by voters in November. Even if the tax is approved, the state still wants to cut the remaining home-to-school transportation funding.
But, Frese warned, if the governor’s tax package doesn’t pass, there will be another round of cuts for the state’s already-beleaguered schools. And Frese estimated it could cost the district an additional $370 a student – or about $1.6 million.
Next year, the school board could face cuts that are as draconian as this year, and with the additional state cuts, the district may burn through its reserves faster than anticipated.
In the last three years, the district has had to send Sacramento more than $5.2 million as its “fair share.” The “fair share” is because Sonoma is a basic aid district meaning it gets all its funding from property taxes as opposed to a revenue limit district where the state backfills the amount between property taxes and the state funding baseline. Since the state can’t cut funding to basic aid districts, it demands a kickback, or fair share of the financial pain.
And, counting the cuts coming on Tuesday, the district has cut $4.9 million from its budget since the 2008-09 fiscal year.
As boardmember Cam Hawing put it at Tuesday’s school board meeting, “We’re in trouble.”
Marsh said the district is going in the wrong direction and she blamed it on Sacramento.
“The legislative system is broken,” she said.
“We need a sustainable source of income – a parcel tax,” she said.
The district has had a parcel tax question on the ballot twice in the last 10 years, and both times the measure has failed despite receiving a majority vote. Both measures failed because they didn’t receive a super-majority, or 66.6 percent of the vote.
“The last parcel tax would have raised about $1 million,” Marsh said. “But that’s not enough to cover this year’s cuts. In California, the majority doesn’t rule.”
She said the district can’t build a budget on voluntary contributions.
“We can’t pay our teachers through fundraisers,” she said.
DeSmet said he doesn’t disagree with Marsh’s assessment that the district needs a parcel tax.
“I’d like to take this school board meeting to Sacramento – to the Capitol steps,” DeSmet said.