Thursday, June 26, 2008

Parcel Tax Sought To Cover School Shortage

Ojai Unified School District board wants initiative on November ballot

By Sondra Murphy
The Ojai Unified School District board has approved a balanced budget, as required.The question is, will the state follow suit?
After months of painful staff and program eliminations by the district in order to produce a balanced budget from pillaged funding sources, Laura Meisch, director of fiscal services, presented the updated 2008-2009 budget for adoption at Tuesday’s OUSD board meeting. With an estimated beginning general fund balance of $1,256,892, expected revenues of $24,874,061, expenditures of $25,293,478, operating balance of $837,475, and a required reserve of $802,614, the estimated end fund balance was listed at $34,861 — —a lackluster amount met with relief when contrasted to possible school closures so recently avoided.
“That’s cutting it close,” said board member Rikki Horne after the audience responded with brief applause and celebratory vocalizations.
Other funding categories are adult education, cafeteria, deferred maintenance, building, capital facilities, special reserve for capital outlay, bond interest and redemption with a total estimated beginning balance of $2,635,863 and estimated ending fund balance at $1,105,890. Categorical funds are so named because of the specificity in which they may be spent and so cannot be used to supplement the general fund.
Deferred maintenance projects over the summer and through next year are the last of bond funds available. “This is it,” said Danielle Pusatere, assistant superintendent of business and administrative services. “I will finish it off in the rest of the year.” Summer projects include various roofing and paving necessities at all campuses and a room remodel at Topa Topa Elementary.
It took little time for the board to voice concerns over next year’s financial hurdles. “Again, I keep wondering how we are going to keep functioning when we’re down to the bare bones,” said Vice President Linda Taylor as the board approved a revised list of classified job eliminations that helped the district stay in the black. “It’s distressing. We need to find a source of funding.”
In his superintendent’s report, Tim Baird said that enrollment statistics for 2008-2009 are coming in a bit stronger than projected and look to be similar to last year’s numbers. While this is good news in some respect, the need to hire back more teachers to accommodate students could strain OUSD’s tight budget.
The projections are based on students signed up at the five elementary and three secondary schools in the district so, until August, Baird said they will hire “ghost” positions and wait and see how many students show up to adjust for actual numbers. “We
have seen swings of 90 or so kids in the past,” he added. “Right now the numbers are solid, particularly for elementary and Matilija. If the high school gets over 1,000 and we grow in the other schools, we are good.”
District staff voluntarily took a cut in medical benefits in order to fund elementary physical education staff next year. Elementary P.E. is currently a pullout subject during which physical education specialists direct students while teachers have time for logistics associated with lesson plans. For secondary teachers, preparation periods are built into their schedules. “Many years ago, district employees traded pay raises for benefits and now they are giving up some of that in order to have elementary P.E.” said Horne.
With the objective of avoiding another scramble for financial solvency next year, the board agreed to spend resources to place a parcel tax initiative on this November’s ballot. Several supporters of the Save Ojai Schools campaign, which raised $62,445 this year for the struggling district, voiced further support for a ballot measure asking to allow OUSD to levy a tax of $89 per parcel annually for seven years with senior citizen exemptions, independent citizens’ oversight and yearly audits,
Unlike the failed parcel tax attempt of 2005, property owners over the age of 65 would be allowed an exemption from the tax and board members expressed hope that the $89 price tag would be acceptable to voters come election time.
“No one can tell us right now how many seniors meet the exemption,” said Baird, who estimated that half of the approximate 9,400 parcels within OUSD boundaries were owned by senior citizens. “Assuming all apply for exemption, we are looking at $450,000, or somewhere in there, being raised if this passes. That’s a significant amount,” Baird said, “that’s a school closure and a P.E. program.”
“I’m a little bit disappointed to hear we’re not talking about more than $89 a parcel,” said parent Mike Caldwell. “No matter what it is, I am going to be doing my utmost to organize the people involved with the Save Ojai Schools campaign to help make your job easier.”
“I’m a little concerned that, with gas going up and the economy going the way it is, it might not pass,” said parent Nicole Botti. “But I will support it because none of us wants to go through an SOS campaign again next year. We will if we have to, but we want to avoid it.”
“Our backs are against the wall,” said Baird. “We wouldn’t be in this position now if we had passed the parcel tax last time.”
“I’m encouraged to hear from so many supporters for this,” said board member Pauline Mercado. “I won’t make any excuses for asking for $89. I think it’s a bargain.”
Clerk Kathi Smith called the parcel tax a “bridge loan from the people in our community” as the district considers ways to develop the district office site into an income-generating property.
Meisch said that the budget would be fine-tuned as actual funding is received come autumn. Baird added that current friction among legislators in Sacramento inspires little hope for a timely state budget.


Anonymous said...

I can't believe they are looking to try a parcel tax again! It was not even close to getting the votes it needed just a few short years ago. Try something else besides taxing property owners.

Anonymous said...

A few short years ago, not many districts were experiencing the financial strain of declining enrollment, the state had not gutted education spending to the same degree it has now, the federal government had not cut back funding for categorical programs, and the district had not made as many cuts to staff and services. The district also did not include a senior exclusion in the previous parcel tax attempt, and they were asking for $150 per parcel, rather than $89. There have been significant cuts made all around, and if you believe that these cuts do not hurt education, please come and visit the schools and see for yourself. This money is nor for "extras", it is for basics. If you have a creative suggestion, I am sure Dr. Baird would be happy to hear it.


Anonymous said...

Why don't they close a school?

Anonymous said...

Why don't they sell some children to some other country that still uses kids as slaves? Hell, why don't we cook some of 'em and eat 'em on the 4th of July? I don't want no 89 dollars of mine going anywhere except for beer at the Hut or to Neanderthal right-wing candidates with IQs of 65 or less.

Smart people make me feel uncomfortable, and worst of all they argue with self-imposed totalitarian authority. Let's stop producing smart people so that me and all of the other mouth-breathing, wife-beating cheap-a** mofos in the Ojai Valley can start feeling better about themselves real soon.

Anonymous said...

...the state had not gutted education spending...
Prop. 98 guarantees 43% of the state budget is spent on education. There are billions of dollars worth of construction bonds used to build schools up and down the state (i.e. Prop AB127 $10b, Prop BB $2.4b, etc.) not to mention lottery revenues.

I keep hearing this falsehood repeated by school employees, or lecturers (and they all somehow personalize it to Schwarzenegger). Raising $450K is less than 2% of the Ojai $25m budget. These falsehoods, and sneaky attempts (like cutting away 1/2 the herd that won't vote for it) to grub even more money just make me lose further respect for a public school system that is broken.

Anonymous said...

As I am sure most people are aware, the state is in financial trouble as well, as property values drop. 43% is less now than it was projected to be, which is why the state did not need to suspend prop 98 in order to reduce school funding. There are certainly areas of public education that need an overhaul, but, as a school employee, I can say that the vast majority of my colleagues work very hard, putting in a lot of extra hours, and spending hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars of their own money to provide materials for the classroom. I wish that more of the people who are critical of teachers, teacher unions, and public education would take the time to analyze the facts and help to improve the system, or offer truly viable alternatives, rather attacking the character and motivation of those who are trying to work within a system that , for the past few years, has demanded that more and more be done with fewer and fewer resources.


Anonymous said...

the state is in financial trouble as well, as property values drop. 43% is less now than it was projected to be, which is why the state did not need to suspend prop 98 in order to reduce school funding...I wish that more of the people who are critical of teachers, teacher unions, and public education would take the time to analyze the facts...

I appreciate you acknowledging that the entire state budget is going to reflect lower tax revenues. All those lower property taxes reflect individual property owners. In addition, the post just before yours was full of facts; the facts have been analyzed. There are no facts in your post; if you have something we should all know, please put it out here.

I, and many others, are critical of teachers unions because we do not see critical thinking in making the case for education spending. No logic, just guilt trips. You have seen, in the previous post, all the revenue streams public education has in CA. What about 2004-05 when the state revenues increased 12% And a compounded 12% in 2006-07? The teachers unions and school districts had no trouble finding a way to spend this money, in addition to off-budget bond initiative funding. What do you think about this? Does it embarrass you? Do you feel entitled to all you can get the taxpayer to fork over?

It only seems to go one way with public schools, and the attempts to make taxpayers feel guilty about an $89 parcel tax are part of the reason the school district spokespeople have lost credibility and respect.

Where is the concern for the taxpayers, who are suffering from the exact same economic dynamic reflected in state revenues? It is not there, only selfish concern for ever-growing budgets.

I'm sure there are many good people working in the school system, who do the best with what they have. Just like the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

why not close a school? enrollment has continued to plummet south for years (as Ojai's population continues to age and gentrify). consolidate resources, close a school, give more money to the remaining schools, kids win.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the OUSD should start charging $89 a year for students who drive to school and use the parking lot at Nordhoff. Or, how about ending the school bus service? Even with the OUSD's discount on diesel, their fuel & maintenance costs must be astronomical. Get rid of the buses & the mechanics and let the parents who want their kids to ride to school find some other way to handle it.

And what's with that huge swimming pool full of water evaporating away all year long, anyway? Don't people know that water is expensive and that we need it for drinking? And how about the maintenance costs for that pool? How much money are we talking about there? Either charge people at least a break-even rate for using the pool, or fill it in and grow vegetables there. They can use the vegetables in the school lunch program, assuming that we don't decide to get rid of that entirely and start requiring kids to bring their own food from home.

Dump all of the sports programs besides basic PE, too. Those must be costing a fortune. If the parents who want any other kinds of sports want to form an association to fund and keep other sports alive and to pay the costs of transporting their kids to other schools for away games, fine, but quit using taxpayer funds to do anything but provide anything but actual education. Band and orchestra? Fine, but the kids have to provide their own instruments, and the school will provide the teachers, as always.

And what's with all of that grass and landscaping? What's that costing us? Let's rip it all out and just have neatly raked soil or crushed local shale everywhere, and maybe a few cactus or plastic plants. Just think of the money and the water we'd save.

There must be plenty of other ways we could play hardball with the budget and still provide a basic education. Let's go for it.

Anonymous said...

-My family used to live in a city with no busing for the public schools. The kids either walk, ride their bikes, or have carpools/parents drive them. We have the trolley maybe we can make it more efficient.

-The swimming pool generates revenue during the summer months through the rec dept activities. Is it adequate to offset maintenance costs? I don't know.

- there is a vegetable garden maintained by a school club at Nordhoff that if managed efficiently may help with your food needs issue. Funds/labor are raised/provided by the club members and other school organizations

- the sports and arts programs cost money but do you realize that not all students go to Nordhoff just for the basic education. High schools all over the country use these programs to attract students to their schools. With so many other school choices around Ojai why do students come to Nordhoff? Definitely not all of them for the academics but for the other programs you wanted to get rid off.

- I agree landscaping can be expensive but with proper design it could be both beautiful and cost efficient. Do you participate in the school's beautification program that happens twice a year? Administrators, teachers, and parents work hard to help maintain the gardens that you see at school.

I think a lot of students are proud to go to a school like Nordhoff because of what it offers academically, and non-academically. Budget cuts are hard on everyone but let's be sensible about what should and shouldn't be cut.

Anonymous said...

Fact: OUSD employees this year agreed to an increase in insurance co-pays, which saves the district about $100,000 per year

Fact: Secondary class sizes have steadily increased over the past five years, as a direct result of budget issues.

Fact: Custodial and secretarial positions have been sharply cut, meaning that if I want my classroom swept and cleaned each day, I do it (on top of my other work, which takes longer, as I have more students). This also means that the grounds, maintenance and custodial staff that are left are stretched very thin, and are constantly being pulled in a thousand different directions, as each person feels that his or her problem is the critical one.

Fact: Every science teacher at Nordhoff (I know more about this department), and many teachers in other departments have scheduled times outside of the regular school day during which they offer extra help (this is done on their own time). I cannot speak for the other campuses, but I know that my own children were generally able to get help from their teachers outside of class time.

Fact: Money that is available for building schools is explicitly NOT available for supporting school programs, buying textbooks, etc.

Fact: State ed code strictly limits what schools can charge for.

Fact: Athletic programs at the high school are largely supported by the money brought in by football and the snack bar, run by the dedicated members of Nordhoff's Parent Association.

Fact: OUSD is restricting transportation service, which has resulted in layoffs for bus drivers

Fact: The vast majority of music students in the district DO buy or rent their own instruments. The MAESTRO parent support group raises money to provide instruments for those students who cannot afford to provide their own, and to offset costs for performances, competitions, etc.

Fact: OUSD is actively developing waste reduction strategies for both environmental and financial reasons.

It is not clear that closing schools saves money, as some California districts have discovered to their chagrin. It is true that many programs could be cut. For that matter, we could decide that we only want to provide public education through eighth grade. We do need to decide, as a community, and perhaps as a country, what the purpose of public education is, and what that should look like. Personally, I think that this will require honest and open dialogue between diverse groups.

The bottom line, to me, is that public schools should serve the needs of our children, who will largely determine the direction our country will take. When I ask for you to support our schools, I guess that I AM being greedy, because I think that my students deserve to have the resources to think, dream, and to compete in a global society. If you do not wish to provide financial support, perhaps you could provide expertise, mentoring, tutoring, etc.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to present these facts, and the school district is to be congratulated making the same kind of ordinary decisions that every household, business, and other government organization has to make. Here are some more facts all should be aware of:
Fact: Prop. 98 is fully funded for 2008-09.
Fact: per student expenditures INCREASE from last year.
Fact: overall public education expenditures INCREASE from last year.

All this, despite the overall State budget that reflects the problems that impact everyone in CA. Isn’t this great news? The public schools are getting theirs, and the cuts are being made elsewhere to government services.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry that anonymous feels the need to be so sarcastic. If you do not believe that a parcel tax is reasonable, then you should vote against it. If you feel that public education, which serves all students, is broken, then you should join the dialogue to find the solutions. There are mandated programs which cannot be cut, regardless of finances or federal and state funding, resulting in a larger encroachment on the general fund. My personal fuel expenditures have increased sharply since last year, but I am purchasing less gas with more money. Education spending is in a similar position. As with our personal finances, the money does not go as far. As with personal finances, this means finding new sources of income, cutting back, or a combination of the two. Unlike personal finances, with school spending, each student or family does not get to choose where to cut. I don't know what the answers are, but I do know that our schools are not able to everything that is expected of them with the money that is currently available. I honestly believe that investing in our children is an investment in the future. I also believe that every person has an interest in the education of every child, because that child has the potential to impact our world. You may not feel the same way. I hope that difficult times can lead to creative problem solving that will benefit all of us, rather than a lot of sniping and finger-pointing.


Anonymous said...

There are mandated programs which cannot be cut, regardless of finances or federal and state funding, resulting in a larger encroachment on the general fund.

Yes, and Prop. 98 for public education is the biggest one of them, mandating 43% of the State budget!

The $89 parcel tax is over 7 years, so it is really a $623 tax that will be assessed even if the State economy recovers.

This, the Prop. 98 funding, and all the other bond, lottery, and private funding of public education still doesn't seem to make a difference, and there has never been a time when the solution for public educators has not been "more money."

I'm not voting for the parcel tax, and I'm going to present the facts above to as many as I can so they will not vote for it. It is frustrating to be on the receiving end of an attempted 'guilt trip', and I apologize for my earlier sarcasm. Thank you for your service to students and education.

Anonymous said...

With the cost of absolutely everything going up, how do the people who are against the $89/$623 parcel tax expect the schools to keep up? How are they supposed to meet the ever-rising expenses of existing on this planet AND educate children?

People complain that the schools always ask for more money, but the whole world is asking for more money, every single day of the year, isn't it? Don't the oil companies ask for more money almost every day? Don't the water companies? Don't the markets? Doesn't the pharmacy? Doesn't the construction industry? Doesn't the insurance industry? Don't you? Why are schools expected to get by on less and less and less when everyone else is charging more and more and more?

If anyone has a sane answer to the problem of funding the schools that will really work and that doesn't involve having teachers working for minimum wage, then instead of trying to hammer it all out here, perhaps those people should run for the school board and fix all of these problems the way they're supposed to be fixed.

Blogging is free and risk-free. Talk is cheap. People sit around in bars and solve the world's problems every day, over and over again, but in fact they never really accomplish anything. If anyone has the real answers to this problem, share them with us, and if you do, try not to simply parrot some kind of worn-out liberal-bashing that you heard on AM Talk Radio. It might make you feel good for a moment, but it never solves anything, it never has, and it never will.

Anonymous said...

Why are schools expected to get by on less and less and less when everyone else is charging more and more and more?

Answer: They aren't. Prop. 98 has guaranteed that funding will automatically increase. Go back and read the thread, especially these facts. Fact: Prop. 98 is fully funded for 2008-09.
Fact: per student expenditures INCREASE from last year.
Fact: overall public education expenditures INCREASE from last year.

...try not to simply parrot some kind of worn-out liberal-bashing...

Why don't you try not to parrot the Chicken Little hyperbole about the "education crisis" and "gutting education funding" propagated by teacher's unions.

Anonymous said...

I would not vote for this parcel tax because I am tired of giving my money to the government and have it spent irresponsibly. I would rather give a donation to the school of my choice and make sure I have a say in how the money is spent. If people with children in schools really want their school to have the needed resources they would give their money or time to make it happen.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you try not to parrot the Chicken Little hyperbole about the "education crisis" and "gutting education funding" propagated by teacher's unions.

Or else what?

Anonymous said...

or else we'll show you our vote!

Anonymous said...

My daughter plays softball and the league rents the fields from Nordhoff during the summer. For the last 3 years when sitting at practice we can hear the air conditionaing running from approx. 5:00-7:30 at night during the summer when school is out!

Anonymous said...

Clerk Kathi Smith called the parcel tax a “bridge loan from the people in our community”

A 'loan' implies a borrowing of money that will be paid back. This is a TAX to be paid every year for the next seven years.