Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 29, 2011

Ravenswood seeks parcel tax — and braces for cuts

May 3 deadline for mail-in ballot that could raise funds for strapped district

by Chris Kenrick

Voters in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park have until Tuesday (May 3) to mail in their ballots for a parcel tax in the Ravenswood City School District.

Passage of the tax, which requires a two-thirds majority vote, would help to lift the school district out of a disastrous budget hole, supporters said.

The specter of class sizes rising from 20 to as high as 30 — or the addition of five to 10 "furlough days" in which schools would close — haunts the district if some of the possible budget scenarios were to come true.

The parcel tax, Measure B, asks voters to renew an existing $98-per-parcel-per-year tax and to add another $98, bringing to total to $196 per parcel per year.

If passed, Measure B would generate about $1.2 million for the district.

Currently, the district is planning for a $3.2 million — or 17 percent — cut to its $18 million unrestricted operating budget for 2011-12, district Business Manager Megan Curtis said.

Additionally, the district receives about $22 million in highly targeted federal and state "categorical funds" to address specific conditions, including poverty and the more than 60 percent of students who are English language learners.

The projections for a 17 percent operating cut are based on the $330-per-student cut envisioned by Gov. Jerry Brown in January, Curtis said.

Curtis said she'll know a lot more in a few weeks when Brown unveils the next iteration of a state budget, known as the May revise.

She has heard rumors that per-student cuts could be as high as $500 to $1,000, requiring far more drastic local adjustments, she said.

About 80 percent of Ravenswood students are considered low-income. Sixty-one percent are English-language learners, and about 30 percent of students each year are new enrollees, according to the Ravenswood Education Foundation.

Ravenswood Teachers Association President Aaron Williamson, a math teacher as well as district-wide math teaching coach, said community members have been working through phone banks and local churches to boost support for Measure B.

"In the interests of students, we don't want to cut any of the school year away," Williamson said.

"Also, increasing class size is especially difficult in a district like ours because we have full inclusion for special-education students. There is no special day (separate) class," he said.

Staff writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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