2017-05-18 / Front Page

School tax loses by 25 votes

Measure A seen as referendum on District of Choice
By Stephanie Bertholdo

The May 2 election to renew a school tax in Oak Park has lost, leaving teacher jobs, salaries and class sizes at the eastern Ventura County school district in jeopardy, a top administrator said.

Measure A, an eight-year extension of an existing $197-per-year parcel tax on Oak Park properties, received 1,944 votes in favor and 1,009 against, just 25 votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

“I’m sorry that Measure A did not pass and I know the (school) board, the staff and families are disappointed and concerned,” said Tony Knight, Oak Park superintendent of schools. “Two-thirds approval is always a challenging threshold.”

Revenues from the tax had been used for teacher salaries and instructional materials that support the academic success of students in math, science and technology, the school district said.

Officials warned that in the 2017-2018 school year, the number of teachers per student would fall and class sizes would increase in every grade except for third grade if the tax was not renewed.

“The parcel tax has been an important revenue source to protect class sizes in Oak Park schools,” Knight said. “We now face the difficult task of developing a budget for next year and years into the future with $900,000 less in annual revenues.”

The tax has been in effect since 2004 and was renewed in 2008 with more than 80 percent of the vote. But this year’s ballot—which voters mailed in—faced an additional hurdle. The election was viewed by some voters as a referendum on District of Choice, a state law that allows public school districts to import students from outside cities. Oak Park has been one of the most aggressive school districts in the area in pursuit of District of Choice. More than 40 percent of district students are enrolled under the program. While DOC families are not required to pay the Oak Park parcel tax, many do. Still, the residents are upset.

Opponents of DOC say the extra student load in Oak Park has caused stress on local traffic. Some even say a school should be closed. Critics believe a downsize could be accommodated and class sizes could be kept small if District of Choice were eliminated.

But school board members have pointed out that if a campus were closed, a charter school (a specialized public school) might open in its place and it, too, would be funded by Oak Park taxpayers.

While administrators rely on the transfers to keep enrollment full and state revenues flowing in, Oak Park’s aging demographic has rendered at least some of the district unnecessary.

Statistics show that only 24 percent of Oak Park residents currently have children in the public school system. The expensive housing market is a main reason why young families with school-age children are not moving to Oak Park with the same vigor as they did in the past.

Knight says the school district remains hopeful.

“We remain grateful to our community for their historic support of their schools, and we will look at the possibility of another renewal attempt in 2018 when more voters will be engaged to come to the polls,” Knight said.

Just over 36 percent of Oak Park’s 8,200 registered voters cast ballots in the May 2 election.

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