Community Forum follow-up November 2010

I’d like to thank Board member Jondi Gumz for submitting this post summarizing the recent community forums hosted by SVUSD.

About 50 people attended the Nov. 13 community forum at the Scotts Valley Senior Center. They ranged in age from 18 to 80. The forum lasted nearly 3 hours, with participants hearing a 20-minute presentation on the impact of the state cutting school funding by 19 percent, then discussing the pro’s and con’s of a parcel tax, other alternatives, and suggestions for the district to make a strong case to the voters, who must approve a parcel tax in a two-thirds vote for it to pass. This summary includes those points along with input by phone from people who were unable to attend.

Pro’s

  • The money would come directly to the district rather than going to Sacramento like property taxes.
  • The money would be a guaranteed stream of revenue for whatever term is approved, while fundraising via donations is variable, topping $950,000 last year compared to $850,000 the year before, and not guaranteed.
  • The money could minimize March 15 layoff notices, retaining teachers and improving staff morale.
  • Teachers have larger classes due to funding cutbacks.
  • High school teacher Karin Babbitt teaches a range of students including those with special needs four subjects in one classroom, second-year drama, honors drama, third-year drama, and International Baccalaureate theater arts; there is less time to give individual attention.

Con’s

  • It could be difficult to get 2/3 yes.
  • Many voters in California said no on Nov. 2, and 16 of the 18 parcel taxes on the ballot fell short of two-thirds yes.
  • It is only a temporary solution.
  • Unless the state increases per pupil funding for the Scotts Valley school district, which is in the bottom 10 percent of the state, or restores school revenues statewide to normal levels or the Scotts Valley district makes structural changes to lower costs, it could be difficult to balance the Scotts Valley schools budget without a parcel tax.
  • It is unfair for renters to tell property owners what they should pay in taxes. About 75 percent of the people who live in Scotts Valley are homeowners, and 25 percent are renters, but everyone in the Scotts Valley school district can vote on a parcel tax.

Participants asked if ideas have been explored to save money and suggested district staff include results in future presentations. These included:

  • Outsourcing services? This could be difficult in a union environment.
  • Merging with another district to save money?
  • Teacher salaries in Santa Cruz and San Lorenzo Valley are higher than in Scotts Valley , so merging with either district could cost more money unless their teachers agreed to lower pay.
  • Switching to a common school calendar to save on training costs? The county Board of Education has discussed this, but each of the 10 districts currently has its own calendar and training days.
  • Teacher furloughs? Other districts have negotiated agreements for five furlough days, including Santa Cruz, Cupertino and San Jose . The Scotts Valley contract calls for a reopener if budget projections three years in the future show a deficit, but projections based on the 2010-11 budget signed Oct. 8 by the governor show a positive fund balance. The accuracy of that budget came in question last week when legislative analyst Mac Taylor projected a $25 billion deficit.
  • What about a charter conversion to attract more students? San Lorenzo Valley has more students because of charter schools and programs catering to homeschooling families; this would have to be researched for Scotts Valley.
  • How about a phone-a-thon to help the education foundation raise money? This might raise more money, although with fundraising at $950,000 it may be difficult to raise much more.
  • Do community members have ideas for savings? One suggestion is to eliminate the 60 hours of community service requirement for graduation, which would save staff time. The board established this requirement before the high school opened.
  • Would a wellness program lower health care costs over time? This would require researching claims history and exploring whether a program with incentives could cut costs.
  • Do employees have money-saving ideas? Board agendas are posted online; board packets are printed on both sides of the paper and copies of newspaper reports on Scotts Valley schools were eliminated to save money and staff time. There may be other suggestions.

Participants suggested ways for district staff to improve communication with the community, such as.

  • Provide a list of expenditures cut in the past three years to provide perspective
  • Include in your presentation the percentage of money spent on district office expenses
  • Include information about enrollment, whether increasing or decreasing, and projections for the future.
  • Give examples of vacant positions reviewed and revamped with an eye to save money
  • Publicize meetings of the ad hoc parcel tax committee so interested citizens can participate
  • Go to senior communities in Scotts Valley and ask to give an on-site presentation
  • Form a community advisory committee of community leaders (similar to the advisory group of leaders from PTAs, parent club and education foundation) and meet regularly
  • Create a link on the district website for community members to sign up for district newsletters
  • Tell donors to the Scotts Valley Educational Foundation where their money went

Participants also suggested strategies for district staff in composing a parcel tax measure that could gain 2/3 support.

  • Allow an exemption for senior citizens 65 and up and the disabled
  • Give a specific end date, such as Dec. 31, 2014
  • Use simple language voters can understand; avoid terms that must be defined or mean different things to different people
  • Earmark the money for teachers
  • Create an audit committee to track the spending of parcel tax revenue
The forum was videotaped by Randy Johnson, who has a show on Community TV. Parents provided cookies, and Coffee Cat donated coffee.
[Updated: Nov 23, 2010] Add link to the District’s presentation