Support growing to change school parcel tax requirements

February 10, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
People who are sick of seeing schools suffer when the state runs out of money say there is growing support for a proposal to make it easier to raise your property taxes. They are pushing an initiative to change the current two-thirds majority needed to pass school parcel taxes to just 55 percent.

The Mt. Diablo Unified School District has to cut a whopping $54 million from its two-year budget. Frustration is resonating across the state.

"It's not just here in Mt. Diablo, it's in Oakland, it's Fresno, it's San Diego, it's in my district in West Contra Costa, it's all over the state. It's atrocious and we need to be able to mobilize," says Charles Ramsey, the West Contra Costa County school trustee.

Local school officials say there is a groundswell of support for an initiative that would only require 55 percent of the vote to pass a school parcel tax, instead of two-thirds needed now.

"And we've seen polling that shows actually that voters, right now, are extremely concerned about education and are willing to increase taxes for education," says Ruth Bernstein from Citizens For Improved School Funding.

When asked if he would vote for this idea, San Francisco resident Brian Sky says, "Absolutely. Anything we can do to support education in the state would be a great improvement and I would value that."

"My biggest fear is that there's no change. We just keep throwing money at the same problem," says Alameda resident Ed Schriger.

The Local Control of Local Classrooms Funding Act would cap the school parcel tax at $250 per home, per year. It would create an oversight committee for accountability, and seniors would be exempt. But it could be a tough sell.

"The question is whether you're going to get this initiative passed because the people of California in general when they're polled in general about two-thirds requirement for taxes, think a two-thirds requirement is a good idea," says UC Berkeley professor Henry Brady.

With little hope for an injection of state funding, initiative organizers believe the political climate is ripe. A recent endorsement from the California PTA means an instant army of mobilized volunteers.

The campaign to make it easier to pass a parcel tax needs 700,000 signatures and it has minimal financial backing -- just a wave of angry, energized, parents and teachers.