Life without Measure A? | SierraSun.com

Life without Measure A?

Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra SunTruckee High librarian Jan Polochko shelves books at the school's library this week.
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Truckee Elementary physical education teacher Mike Pyle can talk your ear off about the importance of P.E. class.

He’ll tell you about physical education’s significance in slowing the obesity epidemic in the United States. He’ll talk about the importance of there being an avenue for academically challenged students to find success at school on the ball field.

And he’ll tell you that without Measure A ” a school parcel tax that’s up for renewal on March 8 ” there won’t be anymore P.E. class in Truckee elementary schools.

“If [physical education] went back into the hands of a classroom teacher ” they already have so much on their plates ” it would be hard for them to do a complete program,” Pyle said. “I think students really look forward to physical education class. If you took that experience away from them, I don’t think there’d be as many opportunities for a child to find success.”

Pyle’s program is one of many funded by Measure A. Music programs at the elementary and middle school levels might not exist without the parcel tax. Among other programs, neither would school counselors or many high school advanced placement classes.

Measure A is a parcel tax that is up for renewal on March 8. The tax has had a 16-year run in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, funding programs like physical education, music and counseling ” programs that most schools in California don’t have.

“In our state we are really at the bottom of the barrel,” said Measure A campaign co-chair Phebe Bell. “We have a chance locally to move up,”

Tahoe Truckee Unified School District is one of the less than one percent of schools in California with the parcel tax funding mechanism, which gives district local control over the locally generated funds.

If renewed, Measure A will provide more than $3 million per year to schools and programs under the school district’s umbrella, which doesn’t include students on independent study outside of the district, nor does it include local charter school programs.

This year voters will be asked to pass a tax that is more expensive ” $98 per parcel per year versus the old $80 ” and has a longer term of seven years, versus the current four-year term. Measure A, like all parcel taxes, requires a two-thirds super majority to pass.

Homeowners age 65 and older will be eligible to file an exemption for the parcel tax.

Though the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District has enjoyed a strong run on the parcel tax, formerly called Measure S, the initiative does face some challenges this time around.

For the first time in the measure’s history, another local agency has put a parcel tax on the same ballot as Measure A. The North Tahoe Fire District is asking voters on the North Lake Tahoe side of the school district to approve a $105-per-residential-parcel increase ” bringing the total tax to $192.10 per year ” for more fire equipment and salary increases.

Measure A campaign committee members say they are confident the parcel tax will pass voter scrutiny, but they haven’t taken anything for granted. Teachers, parents, students and community members have been calling registered voters to ask for their support of Measure A.

“Typically, 4,000 people vote in a special election,” Bell said. “We need to go for 3,000 votes for a solid win.”

Of the $18-per-year increase for Measure A, seven of those dollars will go toward reducing class size for fourth and fifth grades and increasing course offerings at the middle and high school levels. The remaining $11 will be used to compensate for increasing costs, according to district officials.

In past Measure A elections, the district asked voters to approve a four-year parcel tax. This year the district decided to shoot for a seven-year term for several reasons, said Ralph Johnson, district assistant superintendent of business.

“There’s nothing magical about four years,” he said. “[With seven years] there’s less disruption with funding. Also, it takes two-thirds vote [to pass a parcel tax]. The more times you’re out in front of the voters, the less likely you’re going to get it passed.”

Critics say that Measure A funds are not distributed equitably among all students in the school district by the citizens review committee, which oversees the parcel tax’s fund distribution.

Although the critics were not willing to go on the record for the purposes of this article, they told the Sierra Sun they think the Measure A citizens review committee distributes parcel tax dollars in an uneven and political fashion, with some schools getting far more per-pupil money than others.

Johnson said the dollars per student differ because teacher salaries funded by Measure A vary based on the teacher’s experience and salary.

“There’s a lot of personnel tied up in Measure A,” he said. “It’s important to look at the [number of positions] per school and not the dollars.”

And with most of Measure A’s dollars paying for teaching and staff positions, it’s those people who can make all the difference in the quality of a child’s education, said Mike Finney, principal of Tahoe Truckee High School.

“Without Measure A, the classrooms in the district will suffer,” said Finney, who has been with the district for 17 years. “The students have been fortunate, the community has been fortunate and the schools have been fortunate, and to have that support base lost in our [kindergarten through 12th-grade programs], it would be painful to be without it.”