The last time a rate hike was proposed in Oxnard, Measure O (a 2008 sales tax increase) passed by a healthy 65-percent majority with little opposition from voters prior to Election Day.
If public feedback is anything to go on when determining the outcome of a vote, another call to increase fees — this time for the benefit of Oxnard’s elementary and intermediate school students — is being met with both zero criticism and unanimous support.
Oxnard School District (OSD) officials are hoping that Measure E, a $99 annual parcel tax, will help cure financial setbacks and other cuts to their elementary and intermediate school system. The tax, which would sunset after four years, is projected to raise $3 million a year until the district and the economy as a whole repair themselves.
According to Glenston Thompson, district business manager, about $18 million in cuts, from a $140 million budget, have been carried out over the past two years. Officials could face further, midyear slashes to operating costs if Measure E does not pass.
“From a philosophical and practical point of view, (the parcel tax) makes sense,” Thompson said. “What happens when we can’t afford to provide our kids with a decent education? It’s only common sense. It has to be funded.”
Under guidelines of the new measure, every owner of a parcel in the city limits pay out the yearly fee, which adds up to about 30 cents a day. The $99 tax is a fixed price. Thompson also said those older than 65 can qualify for exemptions.
Instead of other taxes, the district’s board of directors chose to pursue a parcel tax, Thompson said, because it gives them more leeway in how the money can be spent, with few restrictions, depending on the priority.
“As the need changes, the allocation would change each year, based on the critical needs of the district,” Thompson said.
Currently, any monies raised from a parcel tax would most likely go toward maintaining curriculum and other programs, preventing the closure of libraries, allowing retention of teachers and staff, and avoiding layoffs, according to Thompson.
One hundred teachers of a total of 750 were laid off this year district-wide, a massive loss to the OSD’s 20 K-8 schools and 5,560 student enrollment.
Thompson also added that Measure E would not be used to pay administrative salaries.
Denis O’Leary, the district’s board president, said the time had come to propose taxation because too many budgetary cuts, and too little support, came about on behalf of the state department of education. Because the school district is public, it relies almost entirely on state and federal funding.
“I think the need has really increased with what has happened on the state level, the reductions in funds we receive,” O’Leary said. “It’s time to ask our local citizens if they want to take local control so we can advance our situation. We need to try to stay ahead of the curve, and we’re not going to do that if we allow others to tell us that the education of our children isn’t important.”
Measure E needs a 66 percent, or two-thirds, majority vote to pass. Publicly, according to O’Leary, the parcel tax has received support in the form of endorsements from the district’s Parent/Teacher Association, the Oxnard branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and others, including former Oxnard Mayor Manny Lopez.
Groups like the Ventura County Taxpayers Association take a neutral stance on Measure E, as does the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce, according to chamber director Nancy Lindholm. There’s also been no formal opposition to the measure, and no arguments against the tax are listed with the Ventura County Recorder’s office.
This imbalance of positive versus negative endorsements is rare when new taxes are proposed, says Dr. Greg Freeland, a political science professor at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
“Usually, when you have something to tax, voters will always vote it down, even if it works in the best interests of consumers,” he said. “This means the whole community wants it. The fact there have been these massive budget cuts in the educational system, people are taking it upon themselves to help change the system.”
If Measure E is to pass at the polls, the district’s board of directors will take steps to appoint a wide cross-section of people to an oversight committee of about nine to 11 people, said Thompson. The committee, he said, will advise the board on how best to use the revenue generated from the parcel tax.