Tax to fund valley teachers on the ballot

10/05/2017

Parcel owners living within the Lagunitas School District will head to the polls next month to decide if a decades-old special tax used specifically to fund the school’s teachers should be renewed after the program sunsets next summer. 

Measure A, placed on the ballot by the school district’s board of trustees, seeks to levy a $535 tax per parcel each year for eight years, beginning July 1, 2018. There is an exemption for seniors who are 65 or older by Feb. 1 who use the parcel as their primary residence. The measure includes a 6.5 percent annual cost of living adjustment, and must be approved by a two-thirds majority vote. 

“The money is going as close to the students as possible,” district superintendent John Carroll said. The roughly $700,000 the tax brought in for last school year funded five classroom teachers, a physical education specialist, technology support and a portion of the school’s library specialist. This money makes up about 20 percent of the school’s budget and is essential for keeping class sizes below 28 students. 

“It’s necessary for us to keep a lower student-teacher ratio,” Richard Sloan, a longtime trustee on the district’s board, said. “And it’s necessary for us to ask the community for help to support the school. We couldn’t do without it. Otherwise, it would just be glorified babysitting.”

Supporters of the measure face two challenges. Special elections like the Nov. 7 election tend to have low voter turnout. Measure A’s two-thirds majority requirement proved daunting in 2010, the last time the tax was up for renewal. That year, an almost identical measure was approved by a mere eight votes. 

“That was definitely in the heart of the recession, so I think that was a big factor,” Dave Cort, executive director of the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, said. “[We] know if the community gets out to vote, they’re going to pass it.”

Yet some are critical of the 6.5-percent annual cost of living increase, which, by 2026, would equate to an annual tax of $831.38. 

“We would like something reasonable, like 2.5 or 3 percent,” Paul Premo, a member of the taxpayers group Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers, said. The group’s founder, Mimi Willard, said she hopes “the district will return to voters in spring 2018 with a tax measure that balances a strong educational program with more affordable escalators.”

Woodacre resident Cindy Miracle, a former public school teacher, said she’s sympathetic to the school, but believes the percentage is too much for lower-income residents. 

“I’m a senior and can opt out of the whole thing, but there are a lot of people who are just making it here in the valley and I think [the 6.5-percent] is more than the cost of living [increase],” she said. “They should go back to the drawing board. I wish we didn’t have to subsidize our schools, but we have to be creative.”

Mr. Cort, who co-chairs the “Yea on A” campaign committee, sees the percentage increase as an investment in the school and that the roughly $35 per year increase is manageable.

“In real dollars… it’s not that much money to an individual, but at the same time it means a lot to the district,” he said. “I’ll definitely forgo my chai lattes or going to movies in order to really help the school out.”