Fifth time's the charm

In a month-long, mail-in vote that ended Tuesday, residents living within the La Cañada Unified School District boundaries made history by approving a five-year, $150 parcel tax that will generate an estimated $900,000 annually for the public school system.

This is the first time in five attempts that the LCUSD and local education advocates have succeeded in pushing through a parcel tax in the district. Similar special elections held in 1985, twice in 1999 and most recently in 2004 all failed to garner voter approval.

The latest tally showed that 4,732 voters, or 74.6%, voted ‘yes’ on the special June ballot measure while 1,606 voters, or 25.4%, voted ‘no.’ The parcel tax needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

An estimated 250 votes remain to be counted and final numbers will not be released until Friday afternoon. The outstanding votes, however, are not enough to change the outcome of the election.

Members of the parcel tax committee, the school board and the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation(LCFEF) celebrated the passage of the parcel tax on Tuesday night at the Urban Army Pilates and Fitness Studio in La Cañada.

Barry Reed chaired the 35-member parcel tax committee that oversaw the campaign. The committee spent all of May placing thousands of phone calls to local property owners to educate them about the measure and to identify supporters, Reed said. They then made follow up calls throughout June to remind voters to submit their mail-in ballots by the June 30 deadline.

“Our primary mission was to inform and educate the community," Reed said. “During the month of May we attempted to call every homeowner in [the La Cañada school district] three times.”

Reed said he and the other members of his team knew that is was going to be a close election. Anger is running high about state government finances, he noted, and the committee was careful to distinguish the parcel tax from the unsuccessful May 19 state-wide ballot measures.

Speaking on Monday before the results were made public, David Wilcox, president of the Foothill Republican Assembly, said he strongly opposed the tax because he felt it would do nothing to fix the ongoing, long-term problem of educational funding.

Wilcox teaches aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles. He said he has had several La Cañada High School graduates pass through his classroom but his top students, he said, are always foreigners. The public education system in the United States, he said, is consistently failing to compete with those of other countries.

Public education is too often dominated by union interests, he argued.

If the La Cañada School district wants to save money, it should look to renegotiate its union contracts, he said.

“We are only going to improve education in America if we are going to do something to put some competition in the mix,” Wilcox said. “My primary reason for opposing the parcel tax is that it is going to virtually nothing to improve the education system.”

But those celebrating at Tuesday’s wrap-up party believe that the additional funds will make a difference.

La Cañada school board member Cindy Wilcox (no relation to David Wilcox) said residents know that one of the city’s greatest assets is its outstanding schools and their ongoing support reflects that. The money generated by the parcel tax, a total of approximately $4.5 million, will go a long way in bolstering the district as it faces multi-million dollar shortfalls in the coming years, she said.

“For us it is substantial,” Wilcox said. “We are a small district and that kind of money makes a big difference to us. It will have a big difference on the class sizes and the programming we can offer.”

Also in attendance at Tuesday’s celebration was state Assembly member Anthony Portantino, 44th District.

“It is a great district with a community that respects the work that is being done and believes in the mission of the LCUSD,” Portatino said.

Deborah Weirick, outgoing LCFEF president, said she was elated by the announcement that the measure had passed.

“We didn’t know how this was progressing,” Weirick said. “We all felt confident that the community would come through for the kids, but there is always that off chance that it won’t.”

Incoming LCFEF president Jack Schaedel said shepherding a parcel tax through a largely Republican district was no small feat. It proves that education remains a top priority for La Cañadans.

“This is just so great,” Schaedel said. “As my first act I can rally the troops and tell all the members of the foundation that the community is overwhelmingly behind it.”

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