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PD Editorial: A show of support for schools, kids


Kudos to Sonoma County voters for showing strong support, once again, for education.

Of the six school-related measures on Tuesday's ballot, four won handily while two others still hinge on the results of late absentee ballots. But even in those districts, the results so far are promising.

A $26 million bond measure in Petaluma's Old Adobe District was ahead with 56.1 percent of the vote. It needs 55 percent to win. Meanwhile, a parcel tax in the Cotati-Rohnert Park school district, the county's third-largest, was winning with 66.9 percent of the vote. It needs two-thirds to pass.

Unlike revenue from general obligation bonds, which can only be used for brick-and-mortar projects, money from a parcel tax can be used to pay for salaries and other operational costs. That's one reason why the threshold for approval is so much higher and why parcel taxes, on average, are approved only about 54 percent of the time in California.

In keeping with that trend, of the 27 parcel taxes on the ballot Tuesday in California, only 14 were successful.

Meanwhile, bond measures also can provide a valuable economic boost to schools that are struggling to balance budgets, meet state standards and maintain aging buildings.

Healdsburg won approval Tuesday for the largest bond in the county at $35 million. Having received support from 60 percent voters, the money will be used to renovate old classrooms, repair roofs, building science labs, upgrade technology and meet other infrastructure needs. Similar bond measures were approved in the Sebastopol, Wright and Guerneville districts.

But this is nothing new. Eight local districts went to voters with bond measures — totaling $141 million — two years ago, and all of them were approved as well.

Local voters clearly recognize the role well-funded schools play in stimulating the local economy, protecting property values and investing in the future of children and the community.

The critical question now is whether voters statewide will have a similar perspective when they go to the polls in November to vote on a much-needed tax measure that reportedly would provide $7 billion in funding for K-12 schools.

The plan calls for raising California's sales tax by a quarter-cent to 7.5 percent for four years and increasing the income tax for seven years on individuals who make more than $250,000.

But school districts across the state have already been advised to prepare for the worst. That means having to create a budget for the 2012-12 school year that assumes the tax initiative fails.

In Santa Rosa, for example, the means cutting another $8.3 million out of a budget that has already been trimmed to the bone.

Overall, general fund spending in California has declined more than 16 percent in the past five years from $103 billion in 2007 to roughly $86 billion. The state's has adjusted to these changes almost entirely through budget cuts.

Local residents already recognize that cutting more electives, increasing class sizes, cutting instructional days and allowing schools to fall deeper into disrepair is no plan for investing in our future. It's a plan for abandoning a generation of students and ensuring, in the long run, our economic problems grow worse.

Let's hope that come the fall, California will develop a Sonoma County state of mind on this issue.