By Barbara Meskunas
Taxpayers always vote for School District bond measures, no matter how little is received in return in terms of quality public education and sound fiscal management. We feel sorry for the children, hold our noses, and vote to tax ourselves based on the value of our property. We grumble about the scandals and mismanagement, but we don’t want children to pay for the bad decisions made by the School District.
This June’s Parcel Tax is different. Proposition A will tax all property owners $198 per parcel – that means you and the owners of downtown skyscrapers will pay the same flat rate, regardless of the immense difference in property values. No wonder the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce is supporting the Parcel Tax – its members get off cheap and San Francisco homeowners pick up the difference.
If Prop A passes, you will pay $198 more on your tax bill beginning this July but it will cost you $400-$500 by the time this tax expires because the amount will be adjusted annually for inflation. The new tax revenues will provide a 6% increase to the School District’s $485 million annual budget. In return, taxpayers will receive no systemic reforms, no School Board governance changes, no test score improvement guarantees, no campus upgrades, no truancy reforms, no neighborhood schools, only happier teachers and administrators – and no practical way to weed out the bad ones.
Money doesn’t make a good school – how money is managed makes a good school. Otherwise, parochial school and home school students would not be doing as well as they do on tests and in life. Every time the School District wants more tax money, we are promised improvements that don’t materialize. Young families continue to leave San Francisco, or put their children in private or parochial schools, because they 1) don’t believe their children will receive a quality education; 2) don’t want their children bussed across the city to satisfy a racial, ethnic, or economic quota; 3) worry for the safety of their children; and 4) are appalled at the physical condition of some of the schools, despite generous bond issuances in recent years. At the same time, we watch the School District spend valuable time haggling over which schools to close, and which programs, like JROTC, fail to pass political muster and must, therefore, be eliminated. To restore public confidence, the School District must begin making decisions grounded in logic, not political ideology.
The $198 tax was not determined by need, but by polling. In their promotion of Prop A at recent public meetings, School District personnel admit they would have asked for $400 if polling showed they could get away with it. That means they’ll be coming back for more as soon as polling determines taxpayers are ready to dig into their pockets again. The Parcel Tax is increasingly being seen by cities as an alternative to general obligation bonds – there is less resistance because a smaller portion of the electorate is adversely affected. For a large commercial property owner, for example, parcel taxes such as this one, paid by homeowners, is money in the bank - those are monies that cities won’t need to obtain through property value assessments in the future.
Unlike general obligation bonds, parcel taxes cannot be passed through to tenants. School District personnel admit they were worried about opposition, and excluding the sixty-five percent of San Francisco that renters comprise will guarantee passage. But they’re forgetting that seventy percent of renters, (the smart ones), want to become homeowners someday, and this parcel tax will be paid for decades and add to the already ridiculous cost of ownership.
The Parcel Tax is being used across the state as a sneaky way around Prop 13 – Pacifica voters saw through it and rejected it in a recent election, and San Francisco voters should do likewise.
Downtown wants to demonstrate concern for public schools on the cheap – don’t let them get away with it.
Vote No on A.
Barbara Meskunas is Executive Director of the San Francisco Taxpayers Union