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Tax for quality education

Auburn residents unsure about possible measure
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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A proposed measure on November’s gubernatorial ballot could bring in $4 million over five years for Auburn elementary schools through parcel taxes. Measure L is proposed to “preserve reading, math, and science instruction, maintain hands-on science programs, classes and labs, maintain reading and language programs for all students and attract and retain qualified teachers” in the Auburn Union School District, according to election documents. If passed, the measure would add an annual $59 tax on parcels within the school district, paid through property taxes. The tax would exist for five years. Exemptions include seniors and those on small fixed incomes. No money would go to administrators’ salaries, according to election documents. An independent oversight committee would monitor how the tax money is spent, and expenditures would also be audited to make sure they fit the language of the measure, according to Douglas Crancer, assistant superintendent of business and facilities for the district. “It’s all going into the classroom,” Crancer said. “There is going to be account upon account (of what is done with the money), and I think that’s important to have that for the community.” Residents with multiple parcels would only have to pay the tax for one parcel, Crancer said. Michele Schuetz, superintendent of the Auburn Union School District, said the purpose of the measure is to keep quality programs in all subjects mentioned. The district is also hoping the money will make it possible to keep some teachers who have received layoff notices as well as hire new teachers. Schuetz the money from the tax could make it possible to pay more teachers, and open more classes, keeping student numbers low, giving teachers a better chance to offer each child the attention he or she needs. Crancer said the district is expecting the tax to bring in about $800,000 each year for five years starting in fiscal year 2011/2012. Schuetz said the measure is necessary because of the state’s continuing cuts. “The state budget crisis has cut the district’s funding by approximately three million dollars, which is equivalent to 16 percent of Auburn’s general fund,” Schuetz said. “Deep cuts have had to be made. The measure will help to provide locally controlled funding to preserve instructional programs, quality teachers and smaller class sizes.” The cuts have already hurt local schools through teacher furloughs, a 14 percent pay cut for managers over two years and the closure of Alta Vista Elementary School, Crancer said. “We’ve already closed one school and there have been talks of closing another one, but with our enrollment that’s not possible right now,” Crancer said. “We’ve just been cut to the bare bone and we are asking for the community’s help.” Schuetz said although the district has a plan for the money gained through the possible tax, a list of necessary supplies for school programs would be left up to school sites. The district also can’t give an approximate number of how many current teachers would be spared from layoffs or how many new teachers would be hired until future enrollment numbers are known. Rob Haswell, an Auburn resident with two children who attend Skyridge Elementary School, said he supports the measure because Auburn will suffer without the kind of education local schools are known for. “Every year the state has been cutting more and more education funds,” Haswell said. “It gets to the point where you have to look at, can you cut any more and still have quality public education?” Haswell, who was the president of the parent/teacher cooperative at Skyridge for a couple of years, said he realized during his time in the position that organizations like the cooperative were not going to be able to raise enough funds for everything the district needed. Auburn resident Dan Sokol said he doesn’t like the idea of a parcel tax, because each property pays the same tax even though property values might be very different. “I would be opposed both as an individual and a voting member of the League of Placer County Taxpayers,” Sokol said. Auburn resident Therese Johnson, who has two grandsons attending Auburn Elementary School, said she wants to be sure the money will actually help the district rather than just being told it will. “I would like to know more than hoping,” Johnson said. “I would like some guarantees. It’s very pie in the sky, there’s nothing concrete there. It’s very vague language. I think they should be looking for other resources rather than burdening the taxpayers.” Auburn resident Deanna Richardson said she would like to see the result of the funds if the measure does pass. “I just feel generally if we know the money is going to the schools, that’s not very much (to pay),” Richardson said. “We pay taxes and we support all the stuff we support with our taxes, but we never see the money getting used.” Shannon Breckenridge, the parent representative for Skyridge on the district’s budget committee, said she knows firsthand the cuts the district has experienced and hopes this measure can prevent the district’s budget from dropping to negative numbers, forcing the state to take over. “If this parcel tax can help us avoid that, I think that alone is an important consideration,” Breckenridge said. Schuetz said the district is available to answer questions residents might have about the possible tax. “If community members are unsure, we encourage them to ask questions,” she said. “We will have a committee of people to answer questions and clarify any misconceptions.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com