PD Editorial: SRJC should proceed slowly on parcel tax
Published: Monday, June 11, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 11, 2012 at 1:27 p.m.
Santa Rosa Junior College officials have multiple reasons to be optimistic should they decide to ask local voters to support a parcel tax.
First, the school is a respected institution with a reservoir of goodwill within the community. This was shown in 2002 when voters overwhelmingly supported a $251 million bond measure that has been used to pay for a state-of-the-art library, expand the Petaluma campus, build a new culinary arts center and meet a host of other infrastructure needs.
Second, as the June 5 primary demonstrated, Sonoma County voters have a propensity to support local education at the ballot box. Of the six school-related measures — five bond acts and a parcel tax — on the ballot Tuesday, four won outright while two are leading but await the count of late absentee and provisional ballots. Two years earlier, eight similar measures went before local voters and all eight were approved.
And finally, Santa Rosa Junior College has a good story to tell about why a parcel tax is needed.
At a time when more people are needing the services of the junior college to better prepare themselves for a ever-competitive job market, state funding has dwindled, classes have been cut and educational opportunities have disappeared.
The number of sections for credit classes has dropped 8.7 percent in the past year while the number of non-credit classes being offered has declined 39 percent.
As a result, spring enrollment has dropped from 31,070 in 2010 to 26,480 this year.
As new SRJC President Frank Chong said recently, the college is the economic engine for the community and it is “sputtering.”
The junior college clearly needs the funds from a parcel tax, which, unlike bond revenue that can only be used for infrastructure, could be used for instructor salaries and other operational expenses.
Nevertheless, the junior college needs to approach this idea with caution.
SRJC trustees, who are meeting today, need to be in sync. One trustee, Onita Pelligrini, said recently she felt “out of the loop” in the discussions, which at this point have focused on paying a consultant to poll voters and gauge community support.
If the trustees aren’t in agreement, the community won’t be either. It’s that simple.
Parcel taxes require a two-thirds majority for approval, a challenging standard to achieve, which is why they succeed only slightly more than half the time in California.
Moreover, the community has many questions, such as the amount of the tax, how long it would last, whether there would be an opt-out option for seniors who couldn’t afford and how the money would be spent.
Finally, the trustees need to decide not just whether to ask for a parcel tax but when. Putting a parcel tax on the ballot as soon as this fall could create confusion given that voters also will be asked to approve a statewide tax initiative to support education and prevent more cuts to community colleges. Waiting until 2013 would ensure that voters have a clearer picture of SRJC’s financial needs, but the college also runs the risk of being on the same ballot with other parcel taxes, possibly including one to support Santa Rosa schools.
The junior college can make a good case for why it needs a parcel tax, but to prevent this initiative from sputtering, college officials need to present a clear and unified message. Right now, they don’t have it.
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