Voters will decide today whether to approve a $1.4-million tax levy for the Westminster School District, a proposal which officials say is critical to maintaining quality education for the district’s 7,500 students.
At stake, according to district officials, school board members and the teachers’ association, which has endorsed Measure A, is whether the district can withstand further budget cuts without undermining student opportunities for a decent education.
“We’re at rock bottom now and our board of trustees reached the conclusion that there’s no where else to cut. We have to go to the voters to find additional income,” Supt. Barney Davis said.
$100 Per Property Owner
The measure would cost a maximum of $100 per property owner, and $200 for each business. If passed, Measure A would be terminated in 10 years, with the board keeping the power to continue to impose the maximum assessments based on the district’s financial need.
Since the passage of Proposition 13, which was an outgrowth of a taxpayers’ rebellion in 1978, the district was unfairly locked into a very low property-valuation formula for state revenue, Davis said.
As a result, the district receives $2,558 per student in state aid, based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA). The rate is one of the lowest among Orange County elementary school districts, Davis pointed out. By comparison, that ADA figure is about $286 less per student than the county’s top-ranked Cypress School District receives.
Although the district has a $25-million budget, about $20 million constitute dedicated funds that are restricted and cannot be touched, Trustee Albert Ingallinera said.
“As a board, we looked at every one of our programs and it came down to finding new ways of bringing revenues into our district. Our options? We thought about closing schools but decided against it in favor of trying to get voters to support a tax levy,” Ingallinera explained.
Last year, the district imposed staff reductions affecting bus drivers, secretaries, custodians and school counselors, in addition to eliminating a popular music and reading program during a $900,000 cost-cutting plan.
School roofs leak, heaters need replacing and some school furniture is 30 years old and desperately needs replacing, Davis said.
“We’ve kept going in the wrong direction with all these budget cuts and we can’t continue to go backwards. I would say this (election) would be a genuine test of the value of education in this community.”
“Let me put it another way. Have you heard the expression, ‘Praying for rain?’ Well, that’s what we’re going to be doing. Praying for rain. Praying for some hope,” Davis said.
The tax levy has already won the endorsement of the Westminster Teachers Assn., Karen Russell, an association spokeswoman, said.
“This district is relatively poor and there are a lot of different things that need to be done,” she added.
Buildings are old and need repair, Russell said, noting that the use of some school furniture has become an embarrassment.
“I have the same old wooden desk that the district bought in 1961. The shelves don’t work anymore,” she said.
But more crucial than old equipment, she said, is the fear of a downhill slide of educational quality in the district.
“I am a science teacher and I teach 180 students during the day at one of our middle schools. But I get $300 to spend on teaching aides. That’s less than $2 for each kid and I teach science. The available money really hasn’t kept pace with what’s needed,” Russell declared.
Some property owners have opposed the district’s attempt to enlist the vote of senior citizens for Measure A, which exempts those property owners over 65 years of age from paying the levy.