Part of the Bay Area News Group

A closer look at East Bay school tax measures

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, November 12th, 2010 at 6:50 pm in Education, Election, Theresa Harrington.

By Theresa Harrington

In the Tuesday election, 46 of 63 school bond measures statewide passed, compared to only two of 18 parcel taxes. That’s a 73 percent passage rate for bonds and an 11 percent pass rate for parcel taxes. Bonds needed 55 percent voter approval to pass, but parcel taxes needed 66.6 percent.

The East Bay’s percentages were higher.

Eight out of nine bond measures passed (with the ninth too close to call) and two of five parcel taxes passed — the only two parcel taxes to pass in the entire state. This resulted in an 88 percent passage rate for bonds and a 40 percent passage rate for the parcel taxes.

Here’s a rundown of the East Bay results (not including some late-arriving mail or provisional ballots):

ALAMEDA COUNTY SCHOOL BOND MEASURES PASSED:

G — Ohlone Community College district (Fremont): $349 million
Yes: 62.2 percent or 27,815 votes/No: 34.9 percent or 16,583 votes

I — Berkeley school district: $210 million
Yes: 76.7 percent or 21,752 votes/No: 23.3 percent or 6,621 votes

J — Emery school district: $95 million
Yes: 73.2 percent or 1,430 votes/No: 26.8 percent or 523 votes

M — San Leandro school district: $50.1 million
Yes: 62.7 percent or 7,929 votes/No: 37.7 percent or 4,713 votes

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY SCHOOL BOND MEASURES PASSED

K — Martinez school district: $45 million
Yes: 64.9 percent or 4,200 votes/No: 45.6 percent or 197 votes

L — Pittsburg school district: $100 million
Yes: 69.3 percent or 4,929 votes/No: 30.7 percent or 2,187 votes

TOO CLOSE TO CALL (MAY WIN)
N — Knightsen Elementary district: $5 million
Election night:
Yes: 54.4 percent or 235 votes/No: 45.6 percent or 197 votes
NOVEMBER 12 UPDATE:
Yes: 55.24 percent or 253 votes/No: 44.76 percent or 205 votes
(Final election certification expected by Nov. 30)

ALAMEDA COUNTY PARCEL TAXES PASSED:

H – Berkeley school district: continue 6.31¢/sf residential buildings ($63.10/1,000 sf), 9.46¢/sf commercial buildings, $20 unimproved parcels for 10 years
Yes: 80.2 percent or 22,239 votes/No: 19.8 percent or 5,743 votes

K — Fremont school district: $53 per parcel for 5 years
Yes: 69.4 percent or 25,093 votes/No: 30.6 percent or 11,040 votes

ALAMEDA COUNTY PARCEL TAX FAILED:

L — Oakland school district: $195 per parcel for ten years
Yes: 65.1 percent or 48,535 votes/No: 34.9 percent or 26,009 votes
(Could pass if late ballots push percentage up to 66.6)

CONTRA COSTA PARCEL TAXES THAT FAILED:

J — John Swett school district: $96 per parcel except industrial/commercial parcels, which would be 1.5 cents/sf; four years
Yes: 56 percent or 1,756/No: 44 percent or 1,380 votes

M — West Contra Costa: 7.2 cents/sf of building area ($72/1,000 sf), or $7.20 per vacant parcel, for five years
Yes: 60.1 percent or 22,343 votes/No: 39.9 percent or 14,848 votes

Jack O’Connell, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, said a majority of bond measures passed because voters have a great passion for improving their local school districts, even in tough economic times.

“Californians voted to invest in their schools and their children’s futures,” he said in a written statement.

He said that 11 more parcel taxes would have passed if the threshold for approval were changed to 55 percent, instead of two-thirds.

The total amount approved for school construction and modernization was $3.6 billion, according to the California state Department of Education.

O’Connell authored Proposition 39, a measure approved by voters in 2000 that lowered the local school bond-approval threshold to 55 percent, down from two-thirds. Without the lower threshold, only 14 of the school bond measures would have passed statewide.

O’Connell advocates lowering the passage rate for parcel taxes to 55 percent. Dozens of school bond measures have been approved between the 55 percent and 66.6 percent margin since the approval of Proposition 39. These bonds give districts the ability to seek matching funds from the state for the construction of facilities improvements.

“Local communities should have more control over funding for essential school services,” O’Connell said. “That’s why I urge lawmakers to approve a constitutional amendment that would let voters consider lowering the parcel tax approval threshold level from 66.6 percent to 55 percent.”

Brannin Dorsey, president of the Fremon district teachers’ union, said their tax passed because the community joined together to support schools and there was no organized opposition. Also, the campaign only asked for $53 per parcel for 5 years, which is less than others in the East Bay.

In addition, the district has already increased class sizes and teachers have taken a 3.2 percent salary cut with six furlough days, showing they are being frugal.

“The money isn’t a magic bullet,” Dorsey said. “We’re hoping that with the federal jobs bill and the money from the parcel tax, that these things are going to help us through this horrific economy without gutting our education system.”

In the John Swett district, Rodeo refinery ConocoPhillips opposed the parcel tax, which would have cost the company about $700,000 a year, according to a story by reporter Shelly Meron, who covers West Contra Costa County schools. The Contra Costa Taxpayers Association also opposed both the John Swett and West Contra Costa school district’s parcel taxes.

“I was surprised so many (tax measures) passed,” said Kris Hunt, executive director of the taxpayers association. “When it comes to bonds, I still maintain people don’t understand how bonds are funded. People really don’t get where bonds are coming from and how much they cost and a lot of times they never even see it because it shows up in their impound accounts. So a lot of those kinds of things are invisible to the public.”

Whereas parcel taxes clearly state how much property owners will pay, bond measures merely ask voters to approve the bond amount, without saying on the ballot how much it will cost them.

Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association, said the school bond passage rate has dropped from about 90 percent approval, during good ecomomic times.

“The fact that so many parcel taxes were tuned down and only 70 percent of bonds were approved shows that people are in a grim mood and unless they see some improvement in the economy, you’re not going to see any improvement in the future,” he said. “When people are doing well as individuals, they tend to be very generous when they vote. When they’re frightened, which they are now, they tend to vote No. The fact that more of them didn’t pass is an indication that people are frightened about their future.”

Nationwide, there were $16.5 billion worth of bonds up for a vote in 461 issues, according to Amy Resnick of The Bond Buyer. Voters approved 71.9 percent for a total of $11.8 billon worth of debt in 278 issues, she said.

The bond measures were proposed to pay for roads, development, electric power and other facilities improvements, as well as education, she said.

There were 259 education bond issues on ballots, totaling $11.6 billion worth of bonds. Voters approved 75.3 percent or $8.3 billion in 149 issues, Resnick said.

Most states only require a majority of votes, instead of a “super majority” of 55 percent, which California requires, she added.

The nationwide bond approval rate of 71.9 percent was the lowest since 2003 for a general election, when it was 60.8 percent, she said.

“I would think it has to do with the economy,” Resnick said. “It’s not so low that it’s a repudiation.”

She does not track parcel taxes.

A statewide list of school tax measures on the Tuesday ballot is on the California Coalition for Adequate School Housing’s Website at http://www.cashnet.org/resource-material/november2010bondsparceltaxes.pdf.

Do you think the threshold should be lowered to 55 percent for parcel taxes?

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