Thursday, August 5, 2010

School district votes to place parcel tax on ballot

Tonight, the Pomona Unified School District placed a $96 parcel tax increase on the November ballot. I live tweeted the meeting as it happened.

Some background: In May, the PUSD board requested in closed session to gather information pertaining to a possible parcel tax for schools. It showed up on the July PUSD board agenda but was pulled due to a legal noticing snafu, and rescheduled for tonight's meeting.

The tax will appear on the ballot in substantially the same form as it does below. An amendment was made to add that no consultants, except those that directly serve students, would be paid for through the tax (although, of course, money from other sources could be shifted to pay for consultants).

PUSD Parcel Tax

I do appreciate the school district's transparency in this matter. The school district was the first one to respond to my public records requests on the salaries of top employees and the contract of the Superintendent of Education, within 3 business days of their receipt. The City of Pomona just hit the ten day mark to provide a response, without any documents. Neither has the City of Los Angeles or the County Sheriff's Department responded to my requests.

However, the school district attorney denied my request for the poll, which was cited in an article by Monica Rodriguez in the Daily Bulletin. Ultimately, at the meeting where the parcel tax was placed on the ballot, the attorney was told by the Board of Education to release the poll to the public, and I received a copy that evening. The attorney explained that he was directed to hire the pollster, and since he was the conduit for the information, the poll was protected by attorney-client privilege until it was waived. Monica Rodriguez of the newspaper got results fed to her verbally by the school board president and the superintendent, but the attorney said that she did not receive a copy of the poll. They did not play the games that some school districts do of having a private campaign committee do the poll and feed board members the data, so they deserve credit in that regard.

Pomona Unified School District Parcel Tax Survey

With exactly 66% of voters supporting or leaning yes, and a two-thirds vote required for this measure to climb, the PUSD has a high hurdle to climb. It's even more daunting with the unexpected no votes of Andrew Wong and Jason Rothman to the parcel tax. Neither chose to make their cases against putting the measure on the ballot from the dais, although I saw Wong being interviewed by Monica Rodriguez. I would have expected a unified front on the issue, but without that, opponents have even more ammunition to kill the tax, with or without Wong and Rothman's active help.

In the coming days I'll discuss some of the challenges the school district has in facing the poll, and some possible arguments that supporters might use in order to convince voters to vote for this tax increase. If no one else will write a ballot argument against the measure, I will, if only to ask some hard questions of the PUSD that have gone long unanswered. The deadline for ballot arguments is August 16, at the Registrar-Recorder's office in Norwalk.


Pomona Joe said...

Fascinating post, CalWatch. I look forward to hearing more about this.

Colleen said...

Thank you so much for this information! Who knew P.U.S.D. could be so transparent?

gilman said...

Great post, Calwatch...very informative stuff.

As for transparency...I am not so sure.

I am unaware of any exemption under the Brown Act which allows the Board to meet in closed session to discuss a potential parcel tax? And the District's attorney trying to claim privilege for not releasing the poll is quite creative, but not to transparent. Glad to see the Board over-ruled the bad advice.

Keep up the great reporting...good stuff.

gilman said...

oops forgot to ask...

Calwatch is it you understanding that the decision to hire a pollster given by the Board in the closed session you mention?


calwatch said...

Yes, that is my understanding, under the board action entitled "communication with voters" or whatever it was under the linked agenda.