A $98-per-property parcel tax that would have raised nearly $1 million and done much to ease the financial strain on the Culver City school system was rejected by the city’s voters Tuesday.
Voters also chose two new board members for the Culver City Unified School District, ousting the only incumbent on the ballot, three-term veteran Bess Drust.
“We’re going to have to continue with the cutbacks that we have in the schools,” said Culver City schools Supt. Curtis Rethmeyer as the results came in Tuesday night. “The children are going to suffer.”
Rethmeyer was among a disappointed group of parcel-tax campaign workers who gathered at a local restaurant Tuesday night for what they hoped would be a victory party. Instead, they saw that their long hours of work and $16,000 in campaign expenses were simply not enough.
The tax proposal enjoyed wide support in the city and was endorsed by all three board candidates, but it fell more than 300 votes short of the two-thirds majority that is required for passage under state law. Nearly final results showed that 2,766 voters (60.3%) supported the measure and 1,824 voters (39.7%) voted no.
Drust, who has served on the board since 1979, finished last in the three-way race for two open seats, defeated by newcomers Michael Eskridge and Madeline Ehrlich.
Eskridge received 2,709 votes. Ehrlich had 2,442 and Drust 2,283.
“Being an incumbent when you’re running in a tax situation is not conducive to winning an election,” Drust said. “I think it does affect the way people vote.”
Drust thanked her supporters for their work, and said she would remain active in the Culver City school community.
Eskridge was exuberant Wednesday morning.
“We always thought that we were the underdogs,” he said. “When we came out on top, we were very excited.”
Eskridge said one of the first things he will do as a board member is find a way to target those who supported the parcel tax in order to seek donations to the school district.
He is also especially interested in finding money to reopen the school district’s swimming pool.
Ehrlich said she will also concentrate on finding money for the district. She hopes to start a farmer’s market with the proceeds going to the schools. She also plans to target donations from individuals and businesses.
“We’ve got to be optimistic,” Ehrlich said about the failure of the parcel tax. “As one door closes, another opens. We have to look for that open door.”
The tax would have levied a $98 fee on each parcel of land in the city, raising about $1.1 million annually for the district. It was intended to offset the more than $2 million in cuts taken by the district this year.
“Everyone talks about trying to improve education,” Rethmeyer said, “but they’re not willing to put their money behind it.”