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School board stalls on parcel tax

Superintendent said bleak forecast for state budget could be a deciding factor

The school board decided last week to push pause on a parcel tax, saying they are unsure if they will go forward with including it on the November 2008 ballot.

Much of the decision depends on the state budget, which should be finalized late next month. Superintendent John Casey said the state budget forecast looks "very bleak" and could change the district's message to voters as to what a parcel tax would fund. Previously, parcel tax dollars would go towards prioritized projects recommended by the Excellence Committee, like class size reduction, technology and modern vocational training. A low budget could mean parcel tax dollars would instead go towards keeping current programs to avoid cuts.

Trustees Steve Brozosky and Pat Kernan said they would not support a parcel tax--yet.

"We don't have the whole picture," Brozosky said about the budget situation and the messages being given to voters.

Kernan agreed, saying November 2008 wasn't the right time and realistically, the district is not ready.

Clerk Chris Grant didn't choose a side, but said he would like dialogue to continue and to have a clear focus to present to the voters.

As of September, the board estimated the tax would be about $100 per parcel, but in order to fund the Excellence Committee's recommendations, it would require $273 per parcel.

The Lew Edwards Group feasibility study results from June showed that residents were supportive of the schools, but there was not a "super majority" of people who thought the district needed more money.

With a consensus to wait on the parcel tax for the time being, Casey said they would hold off on the survey group and school site meetings, but continue to keep open discussion with the community. He added that the district's mind isn't made up on the issue and they hope to identify the district's challenges to the community.

In describing the state budget outlook, Casey compared it to the budget crisis of 2000-01.

"They are looking at possibility taking money back from this year and adding no new money for next year," he said. "Without the cost of living addressed, the cost of people goes up every year. With increases in fuel and utilities, when we roll the budget over, we may have to make some cuts."

Casey added that each department in the district is already cutting back as much as they can and looking to where to save for the next year.

With a possible budget crisis looming, the board also gave the go-ahead to the first phase of the high school master plan, with $32.3 million available funds. The first phase of improvements would include artificial sports turf, fitness rooms and portable classrooms for Amador Valley and Foothill high schools, as well as a science classroom for Village High.

Three phases would cost $37.7 million, or $31 million without lobbies for the fitness facilities. Using capital facility funds through 2019, Measure B funds, state funds and joint use funding, the district has budgeted $32.3 million for this project.

Trustees said to move ahead with the plans without the lobbies. Brozosky called these "luxuries" and the board agreed to discuss them at a later date.

Construction is scheduled to start this spring, and that's not a moment too soon for some parents that have rallied for improved and additional facilities to deal with overpopulation at Amador and Foothill.

Even with the controversy over additional school campuses like Neal Elementary and a possible third high school, board president Jim Ott said these updates are necessary.

"If you took out 500 students (to a new campus), these projects are overdue as it is," he said.

The next board meeting has been changed and will take place at 5 p.m., Monday, Jan. 7. <

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