Education

Sacramento city school district seeks parcel tax to help students

Parents and supporters raise their hands in silent applause after listening to Bret Harte Elementary School teacher Rachelle Gray at a Sacramento City Unified School District board meeting on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013.
Parents and supporters raise their hands in silent applause after listening to Bret Harte Elementary School teacher Rachelle Gray at a Sacramento City Unified School District board meeting on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Sacramento City Unified School District trustees have voted unanimously to place a $75 parcel tax on the Nov. 8 ballot to raise up to $7 million a year for counseling, tutoring and other support services for students who are struggling and at risk of dropping out.

The school district parcel tax, if approved by two-thirds of voters, would take effect on July 1, 2017, and remain in effect for six years. It would not affect tax-exempt real estate or property owners 65 and older who receive school parcel tax exemptions.

The text of the parcel tax says that every school, especially those with historically underserved student populations, would benefit from high-quality arts and music education and that all students should have access to a support staff that reflects the diversity of the community.

Jessie Ryan, the trustee who chaired the three-person committee to explore a parcel tax, said district leaders have great hopes that high voter turnout in the presidential election will help provide the two-thirds margin for a win.

The Sacramento City Unified parcel tax will appear on a ballot that will include a Sacramento County half-cent sales tax for transportation. Voters likely will also consider an extension of a statewide income tax that was initially passed as part of Proposition 30 in 2012.

“There is never a perfect time, but the reality is that all of the indicators are that we might be facing a fiscal downturn,” Ryan said. “So we know this might be our last opportunity for some years to make the kind of critical investment we need.”

More than 79 percent of Sacramento voters in June passed a 10-year extension of a library parcel tax extension that costs $31.53 for a single-family residence. In 2012, more than two-thirds of voters approved two bond measures for the Sacramento City Unified School District, well beyond the 55 percent threshold required for school bonds.

But the November ballot measure is the first parcel tax sought by the Sacramento City Unified School District in recent memory. Unlike bond measures, which typically fund construction and equipment, a parcel tax can pay for programs and operating expenses.

Though the state has directed more money to school districts for disadvantaged students, Ryan said it hasn’t been enough in a Sacramento district where 70 percent of students come from low-income households, based on 2015-16 state data. She called it “absolutely the right thing to do for our families.”

“Even with Proposition 30 and the LCFF (state funding formula), we don’t have our arts and music programming and student support sufficient to meet the demand at our schools,” Ryan said. “These are things that voters in our district care about. We’ve had these programs in pockets of excellence, but we’ve been unable due to limited resources to take them to scale. So we’re hoping to model and replicate them for the benefit of students districtwide.”

The measure says “only 22 out of 76 schools offer intensive on-site student supports.” It adds that the district needs to reduce expulsion and suspension rates, particularly for minority and low-income students.

It said the district has a need to provide school staff members that are bilingual to communicate effectively with students and parents. The measure also says that highly qualified and well-trained teachers, counselors and school staff members are crucial for improving school climate and parental engagement.

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