Schools - June 2, 2010

Election 2010: Community colleges seek $34 annual parcel tax

by Dave Boyce

Local community colleges are asking voters on June 8 to approve Measure G, which would authorize the San Mateo County Community College District to collect a $34 annual parcel tax.

The tax would generate about $6.5 million over four years, helping to restore classes, rehire teachers, and reduce the waiting list of students, which numbers around 14,000, district officials said.

The money would help counter state cuts to the district of $20 million over the current and coming budget years, Barbara Christensen, spokeswoman for the district, said in an interview.

The restored classes would include subjects such as firefighting, police work, and medical-record technology.

"There is unprecedented demand. People are out of work or are fearful of losing their jobs," she said. "Our faculty really stepped up and are taking as many students as they can possibly fit in the classrooms. That's why you see enrollment going up even though our budgets are going down."

This tax-increase measure requires the approval of two-thirds of voters. In a survey, more than 70 percent of district voters responded favorably to a larger tax, but the district decided on a more conservative $34, Ms. Christensen said.

If voters approve this tax, it would set a precedent for the state's 72 community college districts, and Measure G's opponents know it.

"If this is successful, all the community colleges will be saying, 'Me, too. Me, too,'" Kris Vosburgh, a Los Angeles-based spokesman for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said in an interview.

"What they've got to do is what everybody else in doing: tighten their belts," Mr. Vosburgh continued. "This is a horrible time to be raising anybody's taxes."

"We have tightened our belt," Ms. Christensen said when asked to comment. "Nobody's gotten a salary increase here for years. ... We believe we should put the choice to the voters and let them decide."

"We're having to turn students away," said Sarah Perkins, vice-president of Canada College in Woodside. "We keep the graduation path open, but we have to make it narrower."


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