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Westminster School Tax Rejected Overwhelmingly

Times Staff Writer

Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a $100-per-parcel tax that would have restored more than $900,000 in budget cuts to the Westminster School District.

The vote, with all precincts reporting but without the absentee count, was 3,227 against the tax and 1,119 in favor.

Board President Nancy Blumenthal said: “I guess people don’t want to contribute to the educational future of their children. And this tax just came to about 30 cents a day.” Without the added revenue, she said, parents can expect “more program cuts.”

A disappointed Supt. Barney Davis said the money would have been used to repair or replace old heaters, leaking roofs and 30-year-old furniture.

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Before the vote, Davis said he had misgivings that the tax, titled Measure A, would get the necessary two-thirds vote, especially if voter turnout was low.

The tax would have cost a maximum of $100 per residential parcel and $200 for each business. If passed, Measure A would have terminated in 10 years. While in effect, it would have allowed the school board to impose the tax each year, up to the $100 and $200 maximums, depending on the district’s financial need.

Westminster would have joined about 80 California school districts that have passed special taxes.

Like other struggling school districts, Davis said, Westminster suffers from declining enrollment, on which state income is based. At the same time, insurance rates and the cost of labor, equipment and building maintenance continue to increase.

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“The costs were proportionately greater than our income, creating a situation where the district cannot compete for employee salaries anymore,” Davis said. Although the new tax money would not have been used for raises, it would have allowed the district to use other money to help pay teachers.

Some who cast ballots expressed anger about the tax, calling it unfair to people without children or an indication of district mismanagement. Others argued that the district should have held the election last November, thereby saving an estimated $40,000 in election costs.

‘What About Lottery Funds?’

“The main reason I voted no was because I thought there was enough tax money coming out of the state to support schools. And what about all these (state) lottery funds?” asked Ron Hughes of Garden Grove after voting against the measure.

Only 3% of Westminster’s $25-million annual budget comes from the lottery, Davis said.

The Westminster School District serves 7,500 students with 13 elementary and three middle schools in Garden Grove, Huntington Beach and Westminster.

District officials had hoped that a series of advance meetings and campaign flyers would result in a large voter turnout of interested parents. But only a fraction of approximatedly 30,000 registered voters went to the polls.

“We usually get a very low turnout when we only have one item to vote on, as we do in this case,” said precinct inspector Alma Sullivan.

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Jerry Verhague, a 20-year resident of Garden Grove, said that until Tuesday he had never voted against a school measure.

“But I just don’t think they’re using what they have in the way of funds efficiently,” Verhague said.

Keah Clairmont, a mother of two boys, was among those who supported the measure.

‘A Minimal Amount’

“This $100 tax is a minimal amount, and we as homeowners won’t feel the increase at all due to our increasing property values,” she said.

But John Ward, who is single and a homeowner, said he was “emphatically against” Tuesday’s measure because he was a supporter of Proposition 13.

“We had all those pro-education measures on the ballot in November and that really hurt single homeowners and the elderly. Measure A is just another kick in the pants for us taxpayers,” Ward said.

The intent of Proposition 13, Howard Jarvis’ anti-property tax initiative, was first challenged in Orange County in 1983, when voters in the Irvine Unified School District defeated a ballot measure that would have imposed a tax of $50 per parcel. A year later, voters in the La Habra City School District also rejected a tax measure.

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Westminster officials sought to impose Tuesday’s levy as a “special tax,” which Proposition 13 authorizes on condition of approval by two-thirds of voters, Davis said.

Davis said the district receives $2,558 per student from the state, less than most of the 13 Orange County elementary school districts. Cypress receives about $286 more per student.

Some Westminster school buildings are in disrepair, he said, and the purchase of badly needed furniture and other equipment has been deferred.

“We need a better system of school finance in this state. We’re limited by what we can do to get it, and limited in the amount we get,” Davis said.

ELECTION RESULTS Westminster School District Taxes

23 of 23 Precincts Reporting Votes % Yes 1,119 25.7 No 3,227 74.3


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