Pleasanton Weekly

News - May 6, 2011

Parcel tax measure defeated

Supporters say they'll try again

by Glenn Wohltmann

With Measure E, Pleasanton's latest parcel tax measure suffering a narrow defeat Tuesday, supporters of the tax are promising the issue won't go away.

Of the 20,610 votes counted, the measure received 65.16%, or 13,430 votes in favor, vs. 34.8%, or 7,180 votes opposing the tax.

The measure needed a two-thirds majority, or 66.6% votes in favor, to pass. The last parcel tax vote, in 2009, received 61.7% favorable votes.

Tanya Ludden, who led the campaign in support of the tax, waited until about 8:30 p.m. before speaking to the 45 or so people who had gathered to watch the results.

"It was certainly not the outcome we were hoping for," Ludden told campaign workers. "We did everything we could... you worked so hard."

Meanwhile, parcel tax opponent Doug Miller said the defeat was a call for the school board to make some tough choices.

"I attribute it to the insistence by the school board that regardless of other considerations, pay raises must continue. I think the residents took offense to this position," Miller said.

Supporters say they're not done.

"Guess what -- Measure F is coming," said Tom Ludden, Tanya's husband.

Charles Heath of TBWB Strategies said if not for the state's requirement that a tax increase must receive two-thirds of the vote, the measure would have won by a landslide.

"The frustrating thing is in school parcel tax elections, the deck is stacked against you," Heath said. "You can get 65% of the people to say yes and you still come up short."

Heath and fellow consultant Bryan Godbe, president of Godbe Research, told the board in January that a tax of $98 would pass, even with a margin of error of 4.8%, although Heath said it would require a strong push from the community to get out voters.

The push did that. Heath said the turnout was large for elections of this sort.

Four of the five school board members and a number of district staff attended what they originally hoped would be a victory party Tuesday night.

Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi noted that a 65% approval rate was better than the last effort to pass a parcel tax in the city.

"We just need to keep moving on," Ahmadi said. "We'll work together because kids matter."

Board Member Jeff Bowser pointed out that the number of supporters went beyond the board's initial objective.

"Our goal was to receive 10,000 Yes votes and we've exceeded that," Bowser said.

Board Member Joan Laursen choked up when she spoke to the crowd.

"At the end of the day, our schools aren't going to get what we hoped for but we're still going to be there," Laursen said. "It's not the result I wanted. ... I really don't understand it yet."

Board President Valerie Arkin attributed the loss to three factors.

"We have a tax-sensitive community," Arkin said. "I think the economic climate (played a part), and people are just not aware of the effect on schools."

The district's budget was developed without factoring in revenue it might receive from the tax, although Arkin said more cuts are anticipated from the state.

The board quietly announced a tentative agreement last week with its unions, which does not include teacher furlough days as it did last year. However, the classified employees' union, the local chapter of the California School Employee Association (CSEA), which represents secretaries, clerks and custodians, agreed to furlough days (days off with no pay) under its tentative agreement with the district.

The CSEA agreement calls for five furlough days for 11- and 12-month classified employees and three furlough days for 10-month and Kid's Club employees in the upcoming year. Classified employees will be able to choose what days during the coming school year they take off on their own.

Contract negotiations for both unions will automatically reopen if the district experiences a reduction to the Base Revenue Limit that is greater than $399.

The district's website described the tentative agreements as generating $1.7 million in savings. Most of the savings, however, are continuations of cuts in programs or services and increased class sizes implemented last year.

Additionally, putting the measure on the ballot cost the district between $200,000 and $250,000.

Parcel tax opponent Miller said it's time for the board "to develop some backbone" and make some hard decisions.

"I think the school board needs to immediately enter into negotiations with the union to freeze step and column pay raises so they do not have to lay off so many teachers," he said.

Miller also said the board needs to reconsider how it handles layoffs.

"Why do we have to lay off the best teachers versus saving the ones that are the least senior?" he asked. "The school board needs to take a position against that. Why do some of the best teachers get laid off due to seniority-based layoffs?"

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