By Vanessa Castaneda
SANTA CLARA — U.S. Rep. Michael Honda, D-Calif., endorsed Measure C, a parcel tax that could benefit the Santa Clara Unified School District, at an Oct. 4 fundraiser at Planning Commissioner Teresa O’Neil’s home.
Should it pass Nov. 3 with two-thirds of the vote, the parcel tax will cost property owners an extra $138 per year over the next five years. Senior citizens will be able to file for an exemption from the tax.
“Our youngsters come to school with only one currency, and that’s time. You can’t bank that time and withdraw it later on and say now we’re in a better place, you know. We have to do it while they’re there,” Honda said.
The purpose of the tax is to: maintain quality programs in literacy, math and science; provide academic resources at all grade levels and in all subject areas; keep elementary school classes small; and attract and retain qualified and experienced employees.
The Santa Clara Unified School District has 24 schools and about 14,600 students. The district currently spends $9,100 per pupil, more than the state average of $4,486, but on par with the national average of $9,100. California ranks 49th in the nation for per pupil spending.
School officials say local fundraising is common in California but with budget cuts it isn’t enough. This is the first time the Santa Clara district has asked for a parcel tax to be placed on the ballot.
Andrew Ratermann, Vice President of the Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Education, said it is largely due to unfunded state mandates.
“You have a tremendous amount of micromanagement from Sacramento. In other words, they say `you have to do this’, but `we’re not going to give you any money to do it,’” Ratermann said.
High schools, for example, must abide to textbook adoption standards set by the state. However, California covers textbook costs for only grades one through eight. Ratermann referred to the instructional material adoption process, which is evaluated and reviewed every six years for core subjects like language arts.
“There are only two vendors that are approved, with similar content, which doesn’t leave us much choice either,” Ratermann added.
The district budget is about $130 million and is running a deficit of about $10 million, because of state budget cuts, according to Jim Luyau, Business Services Assistant Superintendent for S.C.U.S.D.
School Board Trustee Elise DeYoung, dissatisfied with the loss of local control over district funds, praised Measure C, acknowledging that it may not completely cover the costs of underfunded schools.
“Sadly, it [Measure C] is a $4.3 million solution to a $10 million problem. And we know that. But we also know that this is what our community was interested in and willing to bear on the behalf of our students,” DeYoung said.
In 1978, Proposition 13 capped property taxes at 1 percent and dried up a major funding source for the public education system.
Opponents of Measure C say that the wording is vague and doesn’t provide enough accountability.
“The way I read it, the only thing that the money is going to is salaries. What happens after the fifth year?” Al Cullen, property owner in the district, asked.
An advisory committee of citizens would be appointed by the Santa Clara Board of Trustees to make sure the funds are spent properly, supporters say.
“Our state budget is mess and we can’t depend on [Sacramento] for any type of funding for the next few years. So, I really want to make sure that we focus on getting some funding that’s secure. And making sure that we don’t shortchange our kids,” said supporter Noelani Sallings, mother of a 14-year old who attends Wilcox High School.
Honda’s endorsement raised $2,500 for the Local Schools Local Funds campaign, according to Campaign Manager Lisa Jensen.
The money raised Oct. 4 will be used to increase awareness about the initiative through the volunteer precinct walks and campaign flyers.