Measure D has Homeowners and Schools at Odds

BY N’JERI EATON//

State education budget cuts have forced Castro Elementary School in El Cerrito, like many public schools throughout the state, to do more with less. Despite the loss of hours for librarians, school psychologists, and the elimination of the music program, Castro Elementary continues to thrive and exceed state performance standards. However, if voters decide against the Measure D parcel tax, schools in the West Contra Costa School District will face continued challenges.

A yes vote for Measure D renews the existing parcel tax that was approved by voters on June 8, 2004. The measure seeks to continue the parcel tax for the next five years, ending in June of 2014. If Measure D does not pass, the existing partial tax will expire on June 30, 2009.

If approved, Measure D funds will be used to hire and retain qualified teachers, reduce class sizes and provide after school activities.

A parcel tax feasibility study conducted by the school in March 2008 showed 66 percent of voters supported the measure while 26 percent were against it.

No on Measure D opponents accuse the school district of mismanaging the money from the parcel tax, using if for other expenses like post-employment benefits instead of children’s education. Marilynne Mellander, an outspoken opponent of Measure D, believes that current parcel tax has not had a positive influence on the schools.

“There’s still violence, there’s poor education,” Mellander said. “Throwing any more money at the district will not have any impact.”

According to the staff at Castro Elementary, the money from the current bond measure pays for art programs, band, and after school intervention for students who need more one-on-one time with teachers. Kyle Nelson, a second-grade teacher and head of the site council for the school, said the money for these programs is crucial.

“As much as we can do with any of that, the money comes from this bond measure,” Nelson said.

However, members of the Alliance of Contra Costa Taxpayers don’t want any additional taxes. No on Measure D opponents claim that “people in the district are already the most heavily taxed in the county with six extra taxes already imposed by the district.”

The tax would apply to each parcel of real property in the district. If the parcel has a building on it, the tax would be 7.2 cents per square foot. For example, the tax for a property with a 1,800 square feet would be around $129. If the parcel were vacant, the annual tax would be just $7.20. Senior citizens are exempt from the parcel tax. An exemption form can be found on the school district website.

Although Measure D opponent Mellander is retired, she has not reached the minimum age required for the exemption. She says the parcel tax is a burden on her fixed income. “I don’t see the reason for it, especially in this economic downturn,” she said.

Nelson, who has been teaching for 11 years, believes the tax is an investment in schools.

“We forget, I think, where we are and what we’re doing,” Nelson said. “And 50 bucks a year isn’t a lot of money to be putting towards it.”

However, Mellander is one of a group of citizens who is determined to campaign against the measure.

“We stopped it the last time and we’re going to stop it again and send the board a message,” she said.

Voters will be able to make their decision on November 4. The measure requires two-thirds of voter support in order to pass.

For more information on the proposition, consult your sample ballot or the following links:

Explanation of Measure D
http://www.smartvoter.org/2008/11/04/ca/cc/meas/D/

No on Measure D
http://WWW.ACCTaxpayers.com

Parcel Tax Feasibility Report
http://www.wccusd.k12.ca.us/Fiscal/parcel_tax/WCCUSD-Survey3-08.pdf

Senior Citizen Exemption Form
http://www.wccusd.k12.ca.us/Fiscal/parcel_tax/sr_exemption_form_0809.pdf

2005-2006 School District Budget Cuts
http://www.wccusd.k12.ca.us/Fiscal/PDF/cuts030804.pdf

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