School board keeps parcel tax on November ballot

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education Tuesday declined to remove a proposed parcel tax from the November ballot despite recent second thoughts by board President Richard Barrera.

None of the five board members offered a motion to reconsider the measure at a special meeting Barrera called after meeting with San Diego city officials who are considering putting a sales tax increase on the ballot.

The school board approved a vote for a parcel tax, which will raise $50 million for the district, at its July 13 meeting.

Barrera began to question the advisability of the plan after meeting with city officials over the weekend. The sales tax measure needs only 50 percent plus one vote to pass, while the parcel tax requires a two-thirds majority of voters.

Barrera said he has spent the past two weeks trying to build support but found instead that passing the two-thirds hurdle will be a challenge.

“I’ll be very honest. It’s been difficult — it’s been tough sledding,” Barrera said.

Polling shows that a majority of San Diego residents support the measure, but reaching two-thirds will require “lots of education” and “enormous time and enormous effort,” he said.

If approved, a $98 levy will be placed on each house within the school district boundaries, $60 for each unit of multi-family housing and $450 on commercial and industrial properties. Exemptions would be made for low-income seniors.

District officials say the additional revenue will provide extra discretionary income to be spent at the individual school level, keep kindergarten through third grade class size ratios at 24 to 1 or less, fund science and technology instruction and improve classroom technology.

However, the total money raised will only solve part of a $127 million budget shortfall projected for the 2011-12 school year.

Opponents who spoke to the board said the money is only going to be spent on pay raises promised to teachers in a contract approved earlier this year with the San Diego Education Association.

“People are willing to throw themselves heart and soul into the effort,” Barrera said, and passing the measure is worth it to prevent what he believes would otherwise be the “devastation of public education.”

Barrera conceded that his “flip-flopping” of the past several days will make it more difficult to pass the parcel tax.

“I dropped out for a couple of days — and I’m sorry about that, but I’m willing to jump back in,” Barrera said.

Board member John De Beck, who will be in a difficult race for re-election in November, said the public has a right to decide whether it wants to fund services.