GUSD takes step toward parcel tax


The Gilroy Unified School District will vote next week on a $16,500 contract with San Francisco-based consulting firm TBWB Strategies, to determine the feasibility of putting a parcel tax before voters in order to obtain local funding for Gilroy schools.

The parcel tax feasibility study is listed as an action item on GUSD’s agenda for the March 1 Board of Education meeting, which will take place at 7 p.m. in the district board room Thursday.

Facing a $3.2 to $7.2 million loss in state funding next year (or $471 to $841 per student), GUSD is seriously exploring for the first time putting a parcel tax before voters. This is the only revenue-generating option GUSD has, prompting a grim anecdote from GUSD Trustee Mark Good.

“We’re not like the city, where we can pass taxes on a variety of things,” he said. “As a school district, we’re like beggars on the street corner holding our hands out and receiving whatever the state chooses to give us.”

During this Thursday’s board meeting, trustees must decide if GUSD’s chances of passing a parcel tax is worth the cost of (a) an initial feasibility study through an outside consultant at the cost of $16,500, and (b) polling, which will cost an estimated $24,000 to $30,000.

If the district sees the effort through to the ballot box, the expense of putting a parcel tax before voters could cost $50,000 to $100,000.

If the district is successful in passing a parcel tax, GUSD could receive anywhere from $700,000 to $4 million in locally sustained funding annually for the length of the tax.

Good said he might be willing to spend $15,000 to $20,000 to see if GUSD “even has a chance” of passing a parcel tax, but he’s disinclined to shell out anything more “to determine what I already believe is to be true, which is (the parcel tax) is not going to pass.”

Good supports the notion of a parcel tax because GUSD “desperately” needs the money, but voter receptivity to the idea doesn’t look promising, he said.

GUSD, additionally, is in “such desperate straits that I can’t see spending $50,000 to $100,000 on going down a rat hole when we’re already staring down the edge of the cliff,” Good added.

Board approval has been recommended to hire TBWB Strategies, which submitted its proposal Feb. 3 for a parcel tax feasibility study. Funding for the $16,500 contract would come from the district’s general fund.

The Dispatch inquired with GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores as to who recommended board approval for the contract, but Flores did not respond as of press time.

TBWB states that its standard consulting fee to the district would be $5,500 a month. This does not include the cost of conducting a poll, which will depend on the sample size and survey length.

In recent board meetings, trustees have been presented with examples of different parcel tax amounts, which include $50, $100, $150, $200, $250 and $300 per year. A $50 parcel tax, for example, would provide $735,000 in revenue annually for the term of the parcel tax. A $300 parcel tax would provide GUSD with $4.4 million annually.

Although the district experienced success with Measure P – the $150 million school facilities bond Gilroyans approved in November 2008 – Good said the economic climate has changed.

Not only was there a large group of community members who wanted to get Christopher High School built, which was “the flagship selling of the bond,” Good said, “times were not as dire as they are now…I think the public has taken all they can.”

There will likely be three to four statewide measures dealing with school financing on the November 2012 ballot, Good added. He thinks voters are going to be overwhelmed with government agencies who “keep asking for more and more, while they’re giving less and less.”

TBWB partner Jared Boigon said there has been no further conversations between TBWB and the district beyond the short-term feasibility study, which trustees will vote on Thursday. While Gilroyans have a general idea of the bleak fiscal situation in Sacramento, Boigon explained the objective is to make sure community members understand the local impacts on schools.

“What’s most important is that we figure out how widely understood it is that the district is making the best of a very tough situation,” he said. “We’ll assess the possibility of doing something about it, and then we’ll take it from there.”

TBWB is described on its website as a “political strategy and communications consulting firm specializing in public finance ballot measures, strategic communications and grassroots mobilization strategies.” The consultants at TBWB have passed more than 100 public finance ballot measures in stable local revenue for public programs, services and facilities, according to its website.

In its parcel tax feasibility study proposal, TBWB spotlights past experience related to parcel tax work. This includes a list of 75 different projects worked on by TBWB that resulted in 60 to 80 percent of “yes” votes on various parcel taxes for central and northern California school districts. While he can’t speak for each individual district, Boigon confirmed that successfully passing a parcel tax generally costs a school district anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000.

Boigon said the consulting firm has worked with a number of districts boasting demographics similar to that of Gilroy. He mentioned districts in Watsonville, East San Jose, Anaheim, Riverside County, East Palo Alto and South San Francisco.

As described in its proposal to GUSD, TBWB strategies will work with the district to develop a potential parcel tax outreach and communication strategy, which will be tested via polling. The consulting group will also assist GUSD in selecting a qualified pollster, guiding that pollster in writing a survey questionnaire and identifying the key demographic criteria for the “sampling universe” in a public opinion survey of local voters that tests the viability of a ballot measure.

After this, TBWB will evaluate GUSD’s chances for success in a potential election and help the pollster analyze the data to provide “strategic guidance for winning in the current environment.”

Additional information regarding this agenda item will be made available on GUSD’s website by 5 p.m. Monday.

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