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Measure C fails to pass

By Vanessa Castanaeda | 16 Nov 2009

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SANTA CLARA- Voters failed to approve Measure C on election night, surprising supporters who had anticipated a solid victory based on poll results.

According to an Oct. 17 poll, 77 percent of voters who responded supported the measure, 13 percent did not, the remainder declining to identify their preference. The poll, conducted by supporters at Local Schools Local Funds did not cite a margin of error.

Shortly before precincts closed at 8 p.m. on Nov. 3, Emily Adorable, volunteer co-chair of a pro-Measure C campaign, said: “I would be absolutely shocked if this measure doesn’t pass.”

However, after all the precincts reported, the lone measure on the ballot chalked up 63 percent “yes” votes and 37 percent “no” votes, falling 4 percent short of the two-thirds needed for passage.

The measure would have obligated residents to pay a $138 per year parcel tax to benefit the S.C.U.S.D., raising about $4 million dollars a year for five years.

Voter turnout was poor. Only 14,381 out of 54,439 eligible voters cast a ballot on the measure. Voting on the parcel was restricted to the 65 of the county’s 276 precincts within the school district’s borders.

The number of people who cast their ballots by mail, 12,341, dwarfed the 2,040 people who showed up at poll sites.

Countywide, 56,760 voters made their opinions heard in this year’s local elections, compared to last year’s presidential-year election in which 678,033 of 788,821 registered voters turned out to vote. Santa Clara County’s population is 1,764,499.

The school district’s budget is about $130 million, but because of state cuts, it’s running a deficit of about $10 million, according to Jim Luyau, the district’s Business Services Assistant Superintendent. The defeat means the district will now have to make cuts.

Of those funds, 87 percent are fixed as they are allocated for personnel, according to Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley, the district’s Public Information Officer. Each teacher costs the school district between $80,000 and $100,000 per year, including benefits and salary.

The Classroom Size Reduction Program, which set the classroom student to teacher ratio at 20-to-one in 1996, will be one of the first areas scrutinized when deciding what costs to eliminate, Kappeler-Hurley said.

Currently, kindergarten through third grade classes have 20 students per teacher. Increasing the number of students in a classroom to 30 would eliminate the need for one third of teachers’ jobs.

Workforce reduction decisions will be based on tenure, according to the district spokesmen; first year teachers will be most vulnerable to pink slips.

The afternoon of election day, L.S.L.F. campaign headquarters was a hot bed of raucous yet highly organized, last day get-out-the-vote efforts. Cross referencing lists of voters with the lists at the polling sites, school personnel and parents made phone calls to people who had not voted.

Adam Jones was among them. When his first son was born, he moved to Santa Clara from San Fransicso attracted by the location and the schools.

“My kids love the Santa Clara schools. I feel like everyone there is so committed to education. All the teachers and administrators really care about kids,” said Jones, who lost his voice on election day making phone calls to registered voters who had not yet voted.

While Jones was making phone calls, voters trickled in and out of the Senior Citizen Center’s poll site located at 1303 Fremont St.

Santa Clara resident Brian Johns, 35, has voted against education initiatives in the past. This time however, the engineer said he voted for Measure C largely because it was a tax and not a bond.

“A tax is much more efficient than a bond. I don’t think the state of California or even the city of Santa Clara should be taking on too much long-term debt. If I can afford $140 a year for the next five years, I’d rather pay that than x amount of dollars for the next 30 years,” Johns explained.

A self-described social liberal and fiscal conservative, Johns doesn’t have children right now, but he might someday and said he would rather they go to a well-funded school.

Other voters opposed the measure on principle.

“I don’t want to pay any more money in taxes. ‘Read my lips. No more taxes,’” Bill Bush, a Senior Citizen Center member said, before speeding away on his bicycle.

By early evening, many LSLF supporters had gathered at Fiorello’s Restaurant. All eyes watched the Registrar of Voter’s website updates projected on a screen. The mood had turned grim.

As red, white, and blue balloons were taken away, and “Vote Yes on Measure C” centerpieces stacked into the corner, the few district employees still in the room seemed dazed by the election results projected on the screen.

“It’s a little bit depressing to try to work this hard to help the community and not to be successful,” said Andrew Ratermann, Vice President of the district’s Board of Education.

“The challenge for the board will be how to work with what we have, to minimize the impact,” he added.

The board has not announced a date when it will confer with the superintendent to balance the budget.

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