School bonds, parcel taxes win big

June 4, 2014

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Tuesday’s primary election proved to be a good day for supporters of school construction bonds and parcel taxes.

Voters in 44 California school districts passed 35 school construction measures, worth about $2 billion, a pass rate of about 80 percent. All five of the proposals for school parcel taxes on the ballot also were approved. A bond measure in Mojave Unified is too close to call. School construction bonds require a 55 percent majority to pass, while parcel taxes need two-thirds approval.

Historically 82 percent of school construction bonds and 60 percent of parcel taxes have passed. Michael Coleman has since updated his numbers: 35 of 44 bond measures have passed. Source: Michael Coleman, California Local Government Finance Almanac.

Michael Coleman, a fiscal policy expert and publisher of the California Local Government Finance Almanac, compiled the election data, which can be found here.

The timing might prove good for districts that passed the bonds. Assuming Gov. Jerry Brown doesn’t stand in the way, the Legislature is proposing to put a $9 billion bond measure on the November ballot, with $6 billion of that reserved for K-12 districts. The money would be available for new construction (50-50 state and local match) and renovation projects (60 percent state contribution, 40 percent local) on a first-come, first-served basis.

The bond measures ranged from $650 million in Fremont Unified (61.5 percent approval) and $265 million in Sequoia Union High School District in San Mateo County (64.3 percent approval) to $4 million in Round Valley Unified in Mendocino County (76.4 percent approval). Voters in West Contra Costa Unified soundly defeated a $270 million bond, with only 45.4 percent voting yes.

Parcel taxes impose a flat dollar amount per property, most often around $100. They are one of the few ways that districts can raise extra money for schools. Only about one in eight districts – a total of 124 – have passed them over the past 30 years, according to a 2013 EdSource report.

Coleman reports that 60 percent of parcel taxes have passed since 2001. What may have helped on Tuesday was that four of the five parcel taxes on the ballot were for tax extensions, with only Livermore Unified asking for a tax increase of $138 per parcel.

Parcel taxes have been a Bay Area phenomenon, and that continued on Tuesday. Three of the five districts were in East San Jose. Cabrillio Unified is in San Mateo County, and Livermore is in Alameda County. Passage rates ranged from 77.4 percent in the Mount Pleasant School District to 69.9 percent in Cabrillo.

Coleman said that, unlike state tax proposals, voters have consistently supported school bonds and parcel taxes. “Even when times are tough, voters recognize that districts are facing difficulties. They have confidence in local people,” he said.

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