In a 5-0 show of support, the school board last week finalized language for a local parcel tax, putting on the June 5 ballot a measure asking Rohnert Park and Cotati residents to vote on Measure D — a five-year, $89 tax levied on local property owners.
The move comes just one month after the parcel tax was by Superintendent Robert Haley and a committee made up of of local residents and members of the PTA.
Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified over the last five years has . Three schools have been shuttered — Mountain Shadows Middle School, Gold Ridge Elementary and La Fiesta. Class sizes are at an all-time high, and teachers have taken huge cuts to salaries and benefits. Meanwhile, the district has experienced the most precipitous fall in student enrollment countywide. Ten years ago 8,300 students attended classes here. Today, enrollment is a bleak 5,913, and students continue to leave.
"I'm looking forward to pounding the pavement," said Trustee Andrew Longmire following the March 6 school board meeting. "From who I've talked to, even people who don't have students in our district said they'd support the parcel tax, given our vision."
According to paperwork filed with the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters, the Measure D language that'll appear on June 5 ballot is:
CRPUSD Quality Teacher and Academic Instruction Preservation Measure: To protect quality education with local funding that cannot be taken by the state, shall Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District preserve reading, writing, math and science programs; keep school libraries open and available for students; protect art, music and vocational instruction; and attract/retain qualified teachers by leavying $89 per parcel annually for five years, no money for administrators' salaries, and all funds staying local?
Trustees showed unanimous support for the measure largely because the funds can't be stripped by Sacramento — which Haley said has pummelled the schools here.
"Well, we’ve had consecutive years of budget cuts — it’s impacted our teachers, it’s impacted our students, and we just don’t have more paper that we can cut. We need to protect our local schools,” he said recently.
Officials also aim to reduce class sizes, create specialty academic "pathways" within the district, improve test scores and attract students back.
"We look at where student achievement numbers are, and class sizes — that's a vote people are going to make with their feet," Haley said at a recent meeting. "We need to keep students here and attract students back."
"We’re going to have to show the community that we’re doing a better job at teaching students," he added. Haley underscored the goals in a staff memo. They are to:
- Preserve reading and writing programs.
- Preserve math and science programs.
- Keep school libraries open and information technology services available for students.
- Attract and retain qualified and experienced teachers and staff.
- Protect art and music instruction for a well-rounded education.
- Provide 21st-century vocational education to prepare graduates for a competitive job market.
- Minimize class size increases to ensure students receive individual attention from teachers.
- Minimize further budget cuts resulting from reductions in state funding for local schools.
Language on Measure D also states that that the funding requires "strict accountability," independent citizen oversight and annual audits and exemptions for seniors and people with disabilities.
If a property owner is 65 or older and lives on the premises, he or she may qualify for the exemption, as well as households who receive Supplemental Security Income, or SSI.
If approved, collection of the parcel tax would begin immediately following the election by the Sonoma County Treasurer and Tax Collector.
Trustees said they were excited and optimistic that the tax will pass in June.
"With the parcel tax, we can further the education of our kids," said Trustee Marc Orloff.