Voters lukewarm on school bond


By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

West Sacramento’s school board appeared interested in pursuing a new local school bond or parcel tax on November’s ballot, despite a poll showing tepid public support for the idea right now.

TERESA BLACKMER: President of West Sac's school board

At the board’s meeting on Feb. 23, district officials heard a report from their polling consultant, Jonathan Kaufman of Solem & Associates.

“We interviewed a sampling of 400 randomly selected voters in the school district,” Kaufman told the board.

One of the questions posed was whether such voters would support a $55 million bond that would cost a “typical” homeowner $88 per year in extra taxes. Such a bond on a general election ballot would need 55 percent of the vote to pass. The poll showed 39 percent support, so “we’re quite a ways away,” said Kaufman.

One probably reason is the economy, he added.

“We’re in a ‘down’ economy, people are (having trouble) paying mortgages, there’s high unemployment, and the 2007 (school bond) measure failed,” he said.  On the other hand, voters responded positively to some of the specific plans that were floated during the interviews, including the offer of creating a citizen’s committee to oversee how the tax money is spent. They also liked some of the ideas their money would be used for.

  “They liked the idea of a citizens’ oversight committee, and they liked the idea of fixing leaky roofs,” said Kaufman.

Voters were more receptive to the concept of a smaller bond, such as a $27 million measure that might cost the typical homeowner $44 per year. If there was a large turnout of voters, said Kaufman, such a measure “might squeak through.”

As far as a parcel tax, voters were “way short” of supporting an $80/year measure and slightly shy of adequate support for a $40/year tax.

“Only a $27 million bond issue costing homeowners $30/year of assessed value, or (for the typical homeowner), $44/year, receives the required 55 percent (approval),” said Kaufman of his polling results.

The board had talked about a new bond or tax in order to finish work at the new high school campus, build a career & technical education center elsewhere, and perhaps do work such as fixing roofs and updating fire sprinkler systems. A big part of the campaign, said Kaufman, is convincing people the school district would be trustworthy and responsible with their money. And a lot of that trust comes from the district’s image in the public eye.

“The more you can communicate to the community that you are good at these tasks, the better you will do,” he said. “For public information and education, I think it’s important to do that now. The more you can educate people about all the good things you’ve been doing in the district, the better off you’ll be.”

How might the economy over the next few months affect the vote:

“If people feel things are moving in the right direction. . . they will be more open to spending money out of their pocket for public things,” Kaufman added.

Washington Unified School District has had two years of 20-plus point improvements in its student test scores. Several board members felt the polls showed that West Sacramento voters weren’t adequately aware of these gains and other accomplishments.

  “We just went through budget cuts and we didn’t have to lay off teachers,” said board member David Westin. “The numbers coming out of this research are just showing what a mediocre job we’re doing (communicating district success). . . The school district has an unbelievable story to tell. We’re achieving a lot without laying off teachers.”

Board president Teresa Blackmer said that new taxes will be problematic to some:

“There are a lot of people on fixed incomes who would be affected drastically by these kinds of decisions,” she commented.

Board member Adam Menke requested a special meeting just to focus on where any new bond or parcel tax money would go.

“We can talk all day about going for a bond, but the question would be, how much and for what?” said Menke.

The board agreed to tackle those details in a future meeting.

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