Election 2022: Santa Clara County schools bank on voters to help students
San Antonio Elementary School, an Alum Rock Union School District campus, is pictured in this file photo.

There are four school district ballot measures coming before Santa Clara County voters in the June 7 primary election.

Even though senior exemptions will be available and funds will not be used for administrative salaries, it will take either 55% or two-thirds voter approval for these various measures to pass. If the thresholds are not met, districts may be forced to cut back on curriculum and teachers and facility upgrades will be delayed.

Measure E—Milpitas Unified School District 

The 16-campus school district is asking residents to renew an expiring $84 parcel tax for another eight years to help maintain academic programs in math, science, technology, engineering, athletics and the arts. The measure requires two-thirds voter approval to pass.

If passed, it will generate about $1.6 million annually. The funds will be used to attract and retain qualified educators and fund programs to help students prepare for college and the workforce, according to the district.

It has garnered the support of Thomas J. Valore, former financial advisor and senior member of the district’s Parcel Tax Oversight Committee, Milpitas Councilmember Evelyn Chua, some district parents and teachers and Anupama Vemparala, the former PTA president of Rancho Milpitas Middle School.

“The loss of $1.6 million yearly from the parcel tax coupled with the reduction of enrollments could mean layoffs and loss of highly trained and effective teachers,” Chua told San José Spotlight, noting residents she spoke to overwhelmingly support STEAM programs—science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics.  “Academic gains from the STEAM initiative of eight years would also be lost.”

Opponents say the district should learn how to better utilize existing dollars before turning to voters, especially as the state sits on a sizable surplus. Opponents include residents Kevin W. Moore and Sandra Young along with Mark W.A. Hinkle, president of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association and Joe Dehn, chair of Libertarian Party of Santa Clara County and District 17 congressional candidate.

“This tax represents only about 1.2% of the district’s general fund budget. Residents and businesses in this district have suffered financial losses far greater than that in the past two years. People have lost their jobs. Businesses have had to close,” Dehn told San José Spotlight. “If the school board can’t figure out how to make their operation continue to work with such a tiny cut in revenue, they should be replaced.”

Measure G—Fremont Union High School District

The Fremont Union High School District, which represents six campuses throughout Cupertino, Sunnyvale and San Jose, is asking voters to approve a $275 million school bond to help upgrade, construct and repair classrooms, science labs and other facilities. Some projects include improvements to ventilation systems, seismic safety and accessibility upgrades, according to the district. This measure requires 55% voter approval to pass.

The bond would raise an estimated $18.2 million annually until 2052, at projected rates of 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed residential property values.

The measure has garnered support from local representatives including Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone, Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein, Cupertino Vice Mayor Liang-Fang Chao and Foothill De Anza College board member Pearl Cheng.

Klein said previous bonds have helped modernized the district office, update the Adult School and Education Options facility and renovate a 100-year-old student union building at Fremont High School. He said while nothing would be cut if the bond were to fail, it would ultimately halt the upgrades to other facilities.

“The (previous) results were amazing to see,” Klein told San José Spotlight. “(The district) has been a good steward of past bond money with lots of fiscal oversight, and I look forward to the passage of Measure G to complete the renovation and modernization of all (district) high schools.”

Opponents say bonds are not fiscally smart, especially since they take decades to pay off. Hinkle, of The Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, points to several different bonds to back the claim–the 2008 bond to upgrade high school technology and a 2014 bond to upgrade computer network capability.

“That (2008 bond) is now obsolete since most technologies are outdated in 4-5 years, but you’re still paying for that bond,” he states in the county’s voter guide. “School bonds are like home mortgages: they must be paid back, in full. Plus, lots of interest. Which means lots of tax dollars that won’t go to teachers, textbooks, computers, maintenance. Interest payments go to bond holders.”

However, local educators said the bonds were never used to buy laptops, printers or other computer equipment. The funds have been used to improve classrooms and infrastructure for technology.

Measure H—Mount Pleasant School District 

The Mount Pleasant School District is asking voters to renew an expiring $95 annual parcel tax for another seven years. It would generate roughly $480,000 a year to maintain core academic programs like math and science, fund programs like art, music, reading and writing and keep libraries open. It would also be used to attract and retain qualified teachers and fund educational materials and access to technology training, according to the district. The parcel tax needs two-thirds voter approval to pass.

“California schools, in general, are underfunded,” District Superintendent Elida MacArthur told San José Spotlight. “Measure H has funded our library clerks to keep our school libraries open, and it has also supported smaller class sizes in first grade. We rely on these funds to deliver essential programs and services to our students.”

She said if it fails, it would negatively impact student programs and other services.

“The library clerks at our school district have been laid off pending the passing of Measure H; if approved, the library clerks will be brought back to support the services we provide to students, including promoting literacy,” MacArthur said. “This is one example of the importance of these funds and how they will impact our students’ learning.”

Opponents say measures like this are a temporary fix and it shouldn’t fall on taxpayers to make up for the insufficient funding.

“It’s understandable why they do this—the way school funding is handled encourages this behavior on the part of school boards. But in the long run it is not sustainable. School budgets will keep going up,” Dehn told San José Spotlight. “That means total taxes will keep going up—regardless of the details of how they are collected.”

Measure I—Alum Rock Union School District 

Without increasing rates, the Alum Rock Union School District is asking voters to renew an existing $214 parcel tax for another seven years, adjusted annually based on assessed property values. It’s expected to raise $4.5 million a year to protect reading, writing, math, science, technology and arts/music programs. Funding will be used to attract and retain qualified teachers and counselors. The measure needs a two-thirds vote to pass.

District board trustee Linda Chavez opposes the extension, along with Hinkle, Dehn and local homeowner Elizabeth C. Brierly.

Opponents said the district has not proven an additional budget increase is warranted. Statistics show 62.17% of students fall below the state average in English and 70.83% fall below the average in math, they said.

“Please don’t reward failure with your hard-earned money,” Chavez and other opponents wrote in the county voter guide. “Demand better academic results, and only then reward the District for their efforts.”

Individuals like state Sen. Dave Cortese, school board trustee Corina Herrera-Loera and local parents and educators said not approving the measure could have dire consequences. About $4.5 million will disappear from the budget, resulting in major budget cuts, including laying off teachers and counselors, closing schools and making cuts to different academic programs.

“We shouldn’t be asking our teachers to do more with less,” Herrera-Loera told San José Spotlight. “It’s about how can we bring more funding to our schools, so that we could do more with more on behalf of our children and families.”

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story contained the wrong name of an official opposing an extension of the Alum Rock parcel tax. That official is board trustee Linda Chavez.

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