*Where West meets East.
Five short months ago, Los Angeles teachers went on strike. They had many demands and no, it wasn’t about higher wages. That was a concern, but the teachers also demanded that the school district fund nurses, librarians, lower class sizes, less testing, and more counselors.
LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District), after resisting for several days, agreed to teachers’ demands.
One problem: how to pay for it.
They went with a parcel tax. That may sound strange, but it’s a kind of property tax that is not based on the value of a property, but the amount of square footage. In L.A.’s case, they asked for sixteen cents per square foot.
Sounds reasonable, right? There was a special election scheduled and this was the only issue on the ballot. No races to decide, no amendments to constitutions or charters, only this: Authorize the school district to levy a new, somewhat small and reasonable tax, to fund schools.
The referendum failed. It needed a two-thirds approval; the vote wasn’t even close. It failed as more people voted against it than voted for it.
What went wrong? Five short months ago, the public overwhelmingly supported the teachers demands. The public stood behind teachers and said we want these things for our schools and our children: Nurses, counselors, librarians, smaller class sizes, less testing …
From Capital & Main, as reported by Bill Raden, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) lifts this quote:
“On his Monday, June 10 broadcast of his KPFK radio show, Deadline L.A., L.A. Times education reporter Howard Blume dissected the debacle with former LAUSD school board member and education consultant David Tokofsky. Tokofsky’s take? With allies like L.A.’s neoliberal supe Beutner running the Yes on EE campaign, who needs enemies? Beutner’s biggest blunder, according to Tokofsky, came last year when he and his pro-charter allies on the board torpedoed the efforts by board members Dr. George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson to get the tax on the November, 2018 midterms ballot, when polling suggested that a larger, more liberal turnout would have made it a shoo-in.
Beutner compounded that error by not only scheduling EE for June’s low-turnout, single-measure special election but by bungling a last-minute language change that effectively translated as millions of dollars worth of free publicity for the measure’s opponents — anti-taxers like the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.”
One takeaway: the special election was a mistake. Putting Prop EE on a ballot with other races would ensure a better turnout and it would have been an overwhelming winner.
And now, we must close our eyes, get on an imaginary bus, and travel from the western terminus of I-10 to the east. Through dusty desert, the swampy bayous of the Gulf coast, and the live oaks of Panhandle Florida until we arrive in Jacksonville, Florida.
We have anti-taxers as well, our own Chamber of Commerce and the Civic Council, who are prepared and well-funded to mount a campaign against a special tax, in our case, a new half-cent sales tax.
Many justify the School Board’s desire for a special election in November by citing the new Florida law that will not allow sales tax measures on any ballot except in a general election that takes effect at the end of the year.
There is overwhelming public support to rebuild our schools and polls say that people also support a small tax increase to pay for it. But will they turn out and vote for it in a special election?
Special elections are notorious for very low voter turnout.
Can the Board be certain that the measure will pass if the City Council authorizes the election?
They will have to promote an aggressive campaign for the tax. Are they prepared? The Civic Council is.
For the record, GOT is in favor of the tax and is in favor of renovating and replacing the decrepit school buildings in the city.
But the passage of the tax is not guaranteed. The School Board, to date, seems to be like the golfer facing a twelve-foot putt with the cup on the lip of a steep decline down the green, and says, “This is a gimme.”
They would like to pick up the ball and move to the next hole.
But the Civic Council is full of experienced golfers, who know that all they need say is, “No, I want you to putt it in.”
Golf rules specify that the golfer must comply.
It’s not a gimme. We need to repair and replace our schools. We need this tax if we are going to do so. But we need to understand that it will take work and time to convince people to vote for it.
It’s easy to say yes to a pollster. It’s much harder, with kids to get to school and a boss who does not accept excuses for being late, to get people to the polls.
Maybe the special election is not a good idea. Maybe the general election in 2020 is better timing.
GOT knows this: he is too old to think he has all the answers, but he also is old enough to ponder the questions.
Is L.A. a lesson for this Bold City of the South?