Sunday, May 02, 2010


By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer LA Daily News

5/1 -- Just five weeks before the June 8 election, backers of a parcel tax to support Los Angeles Unified schools have only raised $100,000 and acknowledge they face a tough fight persuading voters to support the measure amid a weak economy.

Measure E would raise the parcel tax by $100 per year and generate $92 million for LAUSD annually for the next four years.

District and campaign officials concede their fundraising has fallen short of where they should be at this point in time, and they have yet to win the backing of the district's biggest union.

They have also not sent out any mailers or launched an official website.

By comparison, the campaign for Measure Q, the $7 billion LAUSD construction bond that voters approved in 2008, had raised about $260,000 by this point in the campaign and $1.4 million by the time of the vote.

As a parcel tax, Measure E also needs support from two-thirds of voters, compared with 55 percent for Measure Q.

The Measure E campaign has had limited time for planning because the LAUSD school board only decided in mid-February to authorize the measure, said Measure E campaign manager Parke Skelton.

"We've started really late on this, and that's because the board made the decision to put this on ballot in response to an emergency," Skelton said.

"We don't have a tremendous amount of lead time, the economy is in horrible shape and giving money to political campaigns is not the top priority for people."

The limited parcel tax would go strictly to save jobs and programs at the district, which has already shortened its school year by 12 days over the next two years and proposed massive layoffs to close a $640 million deficit.

"It's definitely going to be tough to pass," said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies.

Stern said to run a successful campaign, LAUSD would need at least $500,000.

"$100,000 is really a pittance for a district the size of LAUSD," Stern said.

The turnout for the June 8 vote is also expected to lean more conservative than a typical California election because of the competitive Republican gubernatorial primary.

The campaign is expected to rely heavily on mobilizing the district's large employee base and parent network.

Parent meetings have been held in recent weeks at some schools and fliers have been printed and handed out at district sponsored events, said Stephanie Brady, a communications consultant hired by the district to work on the Measure E campaign.

"We have very little money to spend so we are trying to make sure our timing is good so that we can get to parents, teachers and staff as we get closer to the election," Brady said.

Still some parents said they are frustrated by what seems like a real lack of information and a lax campaign.

"I haven't seen anything, I haven't heard anything," said Angel Zobel Rodriguez, a San Fernando resident and mother of an LAUSD student.

"This is costing money to go out on (a) ballot and it's like they aren't even trying to fight for it."

Several unions have expressed support for Measure E including the California School Employees Association, the School Police Union and SEIU Local 99.

But the district's most powerful union, United Teachers Los Angeles, has not endorsed Measure E.

UTLA President A.J. Duffy said some of the union's members have voted against supporting the parcel tax because they remain suspicious about district waste, including unnecessary use of consultants and highly paid bureaucrats.

"There are still grave concerns... even though documents we have seen show significant cutbacks in these areas," Duffy said.

UTLA leaders are taking the issue back to the union's House of Representatives later this month.

With 45,000 members, UTLA's full support could provide a big boost to Measure E both in terms of campaign workers and voters.

"It's troublesome for me," Duffy said.

"Even if to a certain extent I agree with the arguments of the people opposed to the parcel tax... I know that this would help save jobs and prevent class sizes from going up."

District officials are concerned about taking further hits to their budget after state officials reported Friday that the state's April revenue could be down by as much as $3.4 billion.

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines maintained that he is "guardedly optimistic" about the passage of Measure E.

Cortines said the parcel tax would be key in keeping essential district programs going during the next four years.

"We need this to reduce class sizes in our high schools, for security, custodial services," Cortines said.

"I'm not into slick programs. ... We just don't have the money to spend on that when we need it so badly in the classroom."

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