Dave Brooksher & Kevin L. Hoover
ARCATA –On Tuesday, Nov. 6, Arcata voters will be asked to decide on two local ballot measures that are expected to generate roughly $8 million in funding for the Arcata Elementary School District (AESD).
Measure E would impose a flat-fee of $49 per year on parcels within the boundaries of the AESD. Superintendent Pamela Jones said Measure E should generate roughly a million dollars over the next five years, and that funding would go toward increased staffing to keep class sizes small.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of that until now, but we’re at the point where we really need some extra support to be able to continue to hire certificated teachers,” Jones said.
She’s also hoping to provide more support for the district’s art, music and dance programs.
“We try to make sure that our children have plenty of exposure to the arts,” Jones said, “and our music program has been cut back severely this year – so we’re hoping we can bring that back to the level it was at in the past.”
Five teachers were let go last year. Jeffrey Schwartz, a member of the AESD’s Board of Trustees, said that this year, the district was barely able to hang on to three Arcata Elementary School teachers and rehire one of the laid-off teachers by gambling on an increase in enrollment. Otherwise, class sizes would have ballooned past 30 students.
“Measure E will at least maintain teaching levels and class sizes of no more than 25 students,” Schwartz said.
“E – that’s the ‘inside-the-classroom’ one,” he said. He emphasized that none of the resulting revenue would be used for salary increases or to meet union demands.
Measure F would authorize the issuance of a $7 million school bond. That money would be used to install solar panels at school sites and modernize electrical and sewage systems.
“Our sewage systems are around 50 years old, at least. We need to replace some of the collapsing sewage pipes,” Jones said. “We’ve been putting good money after bad trying to keep up repairs, and we’re at a point now where we really need to replace the entire system at all the different [school] sites.”
Schwartz said that the district has a huge list of deferred maintenance projects it would like to catch up on. “Half the toilets don’t even flush,” he said. “There’s all kinds of rust to remove and painting that should be done.”
The district would like to install a solar power project that would ultimately save it an estimated $40,000 per year. It does require an initial investment, “but in the long run, it’s going to pay off.”
If passed, Measures E and F will affect the education of more than a thousand students in the Arcata Elementary School District.
Measure E will raise an estimated $1 million over five years by imposing a $49 parcel tax on roughly 5,200 parcels within the district.
Measure F will authorize the issuance of a $7 million school bond for the first time since 1998 – when the voters of Arcata voted to authorize a $5.4 million school bond under Measure C.
Asked about the Arcata City Council’s position on measures E and F, Councilmember Alex Stillman said, “We supported them. It’s really important for everyone to support education.”
“Our schools have really been suffering,” Stillman added, “and a lot of the programs for our children to be more well-rounded have been eliminated. This will allow some of them to come back.”
So far, Measures E and F have no organized opposition – but the Humboldt Tax Payer’s League is expected to take a position on the matter when they meet this Wednesday. Executive Director Cliff Chapman was reluctant to make a statement before consensus has been reached – but he said it would be “safe” to assume that the League will come out against both ballot measures, based on past positions.
Chapman had not yet taken a position on Measures E and F, but he did have concerns. Due to Arcata’s high turnover rate, Chapman suspects that the many of voters who support these local measures won’t be the ones that eventually foot the bill.
“The nature of a college town is that lots of those folks are registered and will vote yes for stuff that will never directly affect them during their time at the college,” Chapman said.
When asked if the passage of Measure F might lead to increased housing costs if landlords pass the cost of the parcel tax on to their tenants, Chapman replied, “Oh – most certainly. That does happen over time.”
Chapman’s also concerned about the long term cost of paying back school bonds, and what he calls the the burden of ever-increasing taxes.
“Where does it end?” Chapman asked, citing school bonds for College of the Redwoods and the Northern Humboldt Union High School District, the proposed Residential Utility Users Tax known as Measure I, and Cal Fire’s new Fire Prevention Fee.
The next Board of Trustees meeting will take place roughly 24 hours after the polls close –Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Sunny Brae Middle School.