Monday, October 25, 2010
San Diego taxpayers will decide next month whether they’re willing to pay more for the city’s public schools.
SAN DIEGO San Diego taxpayers will decide next month whether they’re willing to pay more for the city’s public schools.
Proposition J boils down to one question: Should San Diego property owners hand over approximately $8 a month to San Diego Unified for the next five years?
Kate Ferrier says absolutely.
“Our mission is to get as many people to vote Yes on Proposition J,” said Ferrier, a mother of two whose older child is a second grader.
Ferrier is among San Diego parents knocking on doors and making phone calls in support of Proposition J.
Under the measure, homeowners would pay a $98 parcel tax every year for five years. Owners of apartment or condominium complexes would pay $60 per unit. Owners of commercial and industrial properties would pay $450 a year.
Together that would raise about $50 million annually for the district. The money would help to soften the blow of future cuts to education.
Ferrier says her son’s second grade class, which should be capped at 20 students under state guidelines, just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
“If Prop. J doesn’t pass and we don't get more money, then those numbers are going to up to 34 to 35 (students per class). At that point I don't know what I'm going to do,” said Ferrier.
Ferrier believes in her neighborhood school. McKinley Elementary in North Park is three blocks away from her family’s house. She says parents and teachers have done a lot to spruce up the campus and raise test scores at McKinley.
She says their hard work will unravel if the district doesn't have enough money.
“At some point you think, ‘Do I really have to fight for everything?’ I feel like I don't want to do that. I just want to show up to school and it's all great," said Ferrier.
The parcel tax will not solve the district's money problems; district officials say it will help to preserve science and math programs.
It would also pay for classroom technology like electronic whiteboards and classroom laptops.
Each school will get more money based on how many kids are on campus.
Proposition J will go toward teacher salaries so there won't be massive layoffs, school officials say.
But those are empty promises says Lani Lutar, president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.
“This past year (the school district) won our Grand Golden Fleece, which is the worst award a public agency can receive,” she said.
Lutar says San Diego Unified doesn't deserve more taxpayer dollars. She points to a recent school board decision to raise employee salaries in two years.
Teachers already get automatic pay increases every year they stay in the district. State data also show San Diego Unified spends more money on employee benefits compared to other big city school districts in California, but teacher salaries are on the low-end of the scale.
Lutar says employee compensation, combined with likely state budget cuts, will consume the district's entire budget. She believes this parcel tax is a bait and switch.
“The majority of the money is now going to be pre-obligated to compensation increases, so it makes it difficult to believe that the district is going to maintain all of its promises,” said Lutar.
San Diego School Superintendent William Kowba, however, says a strict auditing process will ensure Proposition J money cannot be spent on pay raises.
“The parcel tax has nothing to do with raises for either the teaching staff or the support staff,” Kowba said.
Kowba acknowledges that the school board did promise employee pay raises from the general fund in a couple years.
Data show San Diego teachers are among the lowest paid in San Diego County and among large school districts in California.
Kowba points out teachers are taking 10 unpaid furlough days over the next two years.
“They are aware of our problems and they have come to the table,” Kowba said. “I think over the course of the year, we will have a lot of good conversations and we will come up with other ideas.”
Proposition J faces an uphill battle: A parcel tax needs a two-thirds vote to pass in California. The only large urban school district to do that was San Francisco Unified in 2008.