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Friday, May 18, 2007

Polling Reveals Prospects for Valley Oak Parcel Tax Bleak

While the Davis Joint Unified School Board generally received good news from the returns from the polling they commissioned to test proposals for a new parcel tax, the one piece of bad news was the general unviability of the second parcel tax that would fund the continuation of Valley Oak Elementary School. While its presence on the ballot did not appear to doom the initial parcel tax, there did not appear to be sufficient support to even warrant its inclusion on the ballot.

The initial polling of 437 households in Davis conducted in late April had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent. The initial Valley Oak Polling which presented to the voter information about Valley Oak and then asked:
"Therefore, the district may place a second parcel tax proposal on the ballot to raise the funds needed to keep Valley Oak Elementary School open. Would you favor or oppose such a proposal?"
The findings for this revealed that just 35.9 percent favored this proposal while 42.9 percent opposed it. Remember all of the tax items need a two-thirds vote in order to gain approval.

Even when a the dollar figure of $32 per year was included, the opposition stayed relatively stationary at 41.7 percent, which the support rose from 35.9 to 46.2 percent, that primary came from the 20 plus percent of undecideds rather than from the opposition.

Making prospects worse, a full 51.4 percent of those polled considered themselves very aware of the district's recent decision to close Valley Oak Elementary School and 82.4% considered themselves very or somewhat aware of the decision.

As the pollster who presented these results said, these findings indicate that the proposal is "a long way short" of the support needed to obtain a two-thirds majority. He didn't "see it as having a viability district-wide."

However, additional polling does suggest that having both items on the ballot, "does not seem to disrupt the ability to get the two-thirds vote that you need" on the initial parcel tax. In other words, having the Valley Oak item "will not harm viability" of the initial parcel tax.

Even when they changed the wording from testing "Valley Oak" to testing the wording of keeping "all nine schools," the second proposal still fails. "The semantic change does not give the second proposal any more life."

He further argued that the Valley Oak proposal does not even pass in the Valley Oak neighborhood and that in no district does it achieve a two-thirds vote and furthermore it is a long distance from even a majority.

When asked if under ideal campaign conditions, whereby there was an unopposed campaign if it could achieve a two-thirds vote. The pollster said, "I think it's a long way and will never get there [to two-thirds support]." He said is was simply too great a distance to make up that kind of ground, and in twenty years of work, he has never seen that kind of movement. He said, "it would be an extraordinary situation to move from this level of support to two-thirds."

And while the polling again suggests that it would not harm the chances of the main parcel tax, the sense seems to be at this point, that they should not take the risk on the parcel tax as an option to keep Valley Oak Elementary School open. In fact, there are a number of reasons to not do it, aside from the risk. The most likely route to take would be the continuation of their efforts to draft a charter and turn Valley Oak into a charter school.

Overall the news was overwhelmingly good for passage of the main parcel tax. 81.3% favor supporting the parcel tax, "without changing any of the details of the current parcel tax." With only 7.8% opposition, that is well above the two-thirds vote needed to approve the renewal of the tax at current levels.

They also tested for an increase in the parcel tax up to $194 per home and $97 per apartment per year. Support drops, but it remains at 64.3 percent and more importantly only 20 percent opposition.

They also tested for length of renewal being extended from four years to six years and found about the same level of support as they had for the tax increase.

As we have mentioned previously, the parcel tax will most likely be on the ballot with the library tax. Testing them together found that both parcel taxes appear to have strong support--in the 70 percent ranges even when polled together with a full 63.5 percent pledging support to both and an additional 12 percent supporting just the school parcel and 9.1 percent supporting only the library tax. Just 7 percent of the voters opposed both.

The polling companies conclusions and recommendations are as follows:

There is an overall strong base of support for renewing the parcel tax. The current use of the parcel tax appears to align well with the community's priorities for education and the community seems strongly in support for funding additional programs as well.
"Increasing the cost of the tax to address the impact of inflation does reduce the level of support available for renewal but we believe there is adequate support among parents and very active voters to recommend that a proposal to increase the cost to $194 be placed on the November ballot."
Moreover, most of the changes being considered are feasible including an extension to six years. Adding an "oversight committee" would help to build support for the renewal. A senior exemption for voters over 55 years of age does not appear to harm the prospects for passage with other voters. However, they do not recommend adding in a CPI index to the parcel tax, as support for a COLA does not appear high enough.

They were very clear that there is no such thing as an easy tax election, however, they felt with a strong campaign and limited or no organized opposition, that these taxes with some adjustments were both feasible and likely. With only a bare 10 to 20 percent opposition, it seems promising that organized efforts to oppose the measure will not be mounted.

Still while the findings overall for the parcel taxes were reassuring, the support for a Valley Oak parcel tax, even in its own neighborhood is very discouraging. It demonstrates that the efforts underway to produce a charter school need to continue.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting