Wilmar School District officials last November came tantalizingly close — 17 votes away — from passing a parcel tax measure to buoy the budget of Wilson Elementary School, the only campus in the district west of Petaluma.
This year, Superintendent Eric Hoppes said he has learned lessons from two straight years of failed ballot measures, and hopes to educate the 1,900 voters in the district about the importance of supporting their local school.
“This year we’re listening to voters,” he said. “We need to help a few more folks understand what a value Wilson School is to our community.”
The district is asking for a $65 per year parcel tax, down from $75 last year. It will expire in eight years instead of the 10-year limit proposed last year.
“We’re trying to make it as reasonable for everyone as possible,” Hoppes said.
In 2015, voters in the mostly rural school district rejected a parcel tax, which requires two-thirds voter support, with 61.9 percent voting for the measure. Before that, voters had been generous to the 260-student school.
The original parcel tax voters adopted in 2004 was $45 per year. By a 76 percent margin, voters in 2008 extended the tax by eight years and added $5. In 2012, voters approved $4 million in bonds, which the district used to upgrade security, rehabilitate a sewer line, build a new entryway and improve facilities at the 57-year-old school.
Hoppes said the parcel tax, which is estimated to net $70,000 per year for the school with a $2.6 million annual budget, would be use to preserve programs like music and counseling. It will help restore hours for the school library and bolster technology in the classroom. And, it will help keep class sizes small — 22 for the lower grades and 29 for the upper grades of the kindergarten through 6th grade school.
“This is the kind of thing that guarantees that kids will be well-rounded at Wilson School,” Hoppes said.
The Sonoma County Taxpayers Association has not yet taken a stance on the measure, one of just a handful of issues countywide on the ballot this November, and the only one in the Petaluma area. Dan Drummond, president of the taxpayer group, said he looks at each measure on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s important to avoid knee-jerk reactions,” he said. “The question really would be, why is the Wilmar School District in financial straits.”
Hoppes said the district took belt-tightening measures during the recession when state funding for education took a hit. The district this year cut $50,000 from its budget, carried over another $50,000 from last year, and increased enrollment. The Parent Teacher Association has funded the music program for this school year.
The parcel tax will not provide money for building maintenance or administrative salaries, according to the proponents. Property owners 65 or older are exempt from paying the tax.
Hoppes said the money would be used to help further students’ education.
“It really helps support kids having the full elementary experience,” he said.
(Contact Matt Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.)