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November 17, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Measure I: Lessons learned from defeat? Measure I: Lessons learned from defeat? (November 17, 2004)

Supporters expect to return next year with another proposal for voters

by Alexandria Rocha

With nearly every ballot counted in Santa Clara County, the local school district's parcel tax measure has apparently missed the two-thirds hurdle needed to pass, leaving supporters eyeing their next opportunity to return to voters.

And next time, they say, any overconfidence will be left at the door.

The Measure I race ran neck-and-neck from start to finish. As results began rolling in election night via the Internet, supporters' hopes swelled as the measure inched slowly but surely toward the necessary 66.67 percent to pass. Throughout the next two weeks, the measure bumped closely beneath its obstacle (on Monday it had 66.02 percent of the vote), yet never met its goal.

Supporters and volunteers of the measure -- who were sure it would pass with as overwhelming support as the parcel tax measure of 2001 did -- have admitted that overconfidence could have ultimately led to Measure I's failure.

"My vision of Palo Alto is one in which education will be supported no matter what," said Don Way, co-chair of the "Yes on I" campaign. "A lot of people assumed that it would pass."

With that in mind, supporters plan to rally even more volunteers when they go back to the voters in March or June for a special election. Cathy Kroymann, president of the district's Board of Education, said it's possible the district will ask "for exactly the same amount of money."

Measure I would have increased the amount and longevity of a parcel tax from $293 per year to $521, expiring in 2013 instead of 2006. The measure missed gaining the two-thirds "yes" vote by less than 1 percent.

The district has cut $6.5 million from its budget over the past two years, and Measure I would have brought in millions annually to replenish some of the programs and staff that were cut.

Since the measure failed, however, district officials have threatened to make catastrophic layoffs to the tune of 60 to 90 teachers, including the three fully-credentialed librarians at each of the middle schools.

The district is required to issue layoff notices by mid-March. To avoid those layoffs, the board will discuss exactly when to go back to the voters at an upcoming meeting.

Wayne Martin, who led a small group of Measure I opponents, criticized supporters' overconfidence and accused them of not informing the public of exactly what the money would go toward.

Bob Golton, the district's retired business manager, did present the board last summer with a list of possible programs that would be cut if the measure didn't pass. The list was uploaded onto the "Yes on I" committee's Web site, but was not included in the three mailers that went to voters' homes.

Way said it would have been "irresponsible" if the district furnished voters with that detailed information, since the cutbacks were only possibilities.

Kroymann said it's possible the district will make that type of cutback information more available during the next election if the community wants such information. Board member John Barton said the district might just have to make the cutbacks to get people to notice.

Measure I supporters and volunteers have also said their campaign was overshadowed by the presidential election. Many of their usual movers and shakers were tied up with other campaigns. They hope that a smaller ballot in a smaller election will attract more "yes" voters.

"My hope is that with the national election out of the way, we'll get back our full force of volunteers, some of them were off in other states and had to cancel at the last minute," Way said, adding, "It was harder to get people to give money, they said it all went to other competitions."

And though they have called the two-thirds requirement a "huge barrier," supporters will face it again during the special election.

"Sixty-seven percent is an exceedingly difficult target," said Way. "We elect a president with 51 percent, we'd like to think we can fund the education of our children with something similar."

Alexandria Rocha can be e-mailed at [email protected]

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