Pleasanton Weekly

News - November 12, 2010

Trustees hear parcel tax marketing plan

Could go to voters in May

by Glenn Wohltmann

Pleasanton will support a $98 parcel tax -- if it's marketed right -- experts who surveyed likely voters told school board members Tuesday.

The telephone survey contacted 400 residents, conducting an interview that lasted an average of 17 minutes. During that time, survey company Godbe Research learned a number of things, including:

* Education quality and retaining teachers is second only to keeping the crime rate low, and is tied in importance with job creation;

* 32% of voters would likely oppose a $198 parcel tax, and only slightly fewer would oppose a parcel tax of $164 or $131;

* Voters would be a bit more likely to support a parcel tax that emphasized core academic instruction;

* Using money from a parcel tax to protect student programs, and not salaries or benefits, would make voters more likely to back it, as would keeping local all the money raised, independent oversight of how the money is spent, and the idea that a strong school district keeps home values high;

* About two-third of voters would be more likely to support the tax to help students behind in reading and math, prevent future cuts to programs and teacher layoffs, to protect classes and programs and keep schools safe, and recognizing that the state cut $20 million in the last two years.

In addition, Amelia Davidson of Godbe Research said support was higher among women, Democrats and younger voters.

"Overall, there's significant information that can be presented to voters to make it more likely to be successful," Davidson said.

The survey also looked at opposition to the measure. Among the results were concerns that there would be no rules on how the money would be spent, that it could go for raises for administrators, teachers and staff, and that the administration is already overpaid and has too many perks.

"Affordability of the measure is key," Bryan Godbe told the board. "We did find some tax sensitivity."

"We need to be prepared to head off the salary issues," he continued.

Godbe also said that turnout for the vote would be critical, adding, "There's a tremendous amount of information that voters need to hear and needs to be repeated to them."

A $98 parcel tax would bring in about $2 million a year. Board Member Jamie Hintzke asked how voters would react if the district still needed to make cuts even after the additional money.

Godbe said he survey addressed that, and there would still be support.

"What's affordable is what drives this," he said.

Charles Heath of TBWB Strategies, a company that helps public agencies design public finance measures and works with communities to run advocacy campaigns, spoke about selling the parcel tax to voters.

Although only two of the parcel tax measures statewide passed earlier this month, Heath said that was in part due to mid-term election sentiments. He suggested the dissatisfaction many voters had with officials would be over before a spring election.

TBWB's plan would be to hold an all mail ballot election May 3, at an estimated cost of $250,000 to $300,000; by comparison, the last parcel tax measure, which failed by a small margin, cost $230,000.

The campaign would begin in March, Heath said.

"That's when you start direct mails, that's when you set up phone banks," he said.

The phone banks would be run by volunteers from school sites. The goal would be to persuade and mobilize 11,000 Yes votes.

Although school board members would be able to volunteer their time, the district could not advocate or use employee time to push for a Yes vote.

While the board took no formal action on the proposal, it will likely be considered after the two newly elected candidates take their seats next month.

The two departing members, Pat Kernan and Jim Ott, who served 14 years and four years on the board respectively, were the recipients of accolades and awards from everyone, from Congressman Jim McNerney's office to local employees' unions. Chairman Chris Grant choked with emotion when listing the accomplishments of Kernan, among them continually improving test score for his entire 14-year term, and Grant gave up his seat to let Kernan chair the meeting.

"Jim Ott is the closest thing I know to a renaissance man," teachers union President Trevor Knaggs told the crowd. "Pat (Kernan) more than most understands the highs and lows as a board trustee. Under his watch, Pleasanton Unified School District has evolved into one of the highest performing school districts in the state."

Kernan and Ott left laden with plaques, proclamations and gifts, and Grant joked they'd have to build additions to their homes to hold them all.

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