My Turn: Rethinking Measure A | SierraSun.com

My Turn: Rethinking Measure A

Don Spano
Special to the Sun

TRUCKEE/TAHOE, Calif. and#8212; First, letand#8217;s frame this accurately. I wrote the and#8220;No on Measure Aand#8221; argument appearing on your ballots not as an assault on school funding, but as an argument against Measure A itself as it is currently written.

Sixteen months of funding remain on Measure Aand#8217;s predecessor, through June 2012. If rendered necessary by March 2011 election outcomes, there is adequate time to rework the measureand#8217;s absence of accountability for results and effectiveness before resubmitting it for voter approval.

Progress made with the school district these past few weeks on the key theme of accountability for outcomes suggests that at least a rethinking is in order about Measure A. More on that in a moment.

This is no anti-tax crusade, although it easily could be. Measure A has a seven-year term devoid of circuit breakers that might adjust our special parcel tax down as current, low property valuations and property taxes in general and#8212; the primary source of school funding in this district and#8212; presumably increase over that period. Unlike most school districts in California for which the state pays a fixed revenue amount for each day a student attends school, TTUSD is funded, like Sausalito-Marinand#8217;s and Santa Barbaraand#8217;s schools, based on a fixed percentage of taxes paid by property owners. As property values gradually increase in these handful of districts, so does school funding.

As recently as the January 12 school budget workshop, district administration said about TTUSD that and#8220;weand#8217;re enjoying about 30 percent more moneyand#8221; than districts of comparable student size. We have different local cost structures and a geographically dispersed student population, but voters should not be left thinking that our district is somehow disadvantaged by its funding mechanisms compared to its peers

Too, thereand#8217;s the curious entitlement afforded to voters who own no real property. They may vote to direct resident and nonresident property owners to pay a special parcel tax on real property. Thatand#8217;s a statewide issue of inequity, though, not unique to Measure A.

The primary focus for the argument against is on accountability for results, not for where the money is spent, but for how effectively Measure A money is spent.

These are solid programs paid for by Measure A in music, advanced placement courses, technology and physical education, as examples. No argument there, nor should there be. But until recently, there was no compulsion to measure and report on successes in these specially-funded programs, to set goals and to course-correct when goals are unachieved.

With my thanks to Superintendent Jennings, who reached out to me and to other members of the community about the and#8220;No on Aand#8221; stance, there has been meaningful recent progress made on a formal plan for accountabilities for outcomes, for results and effectiveness, from Measure A expenditures. And the Citizens Review Committee, chartered with monitoring only where but not how effectively money is spent, recently had its steering committee concur with this plan for accountability for outcomes and effectiveness. Assessment criteria are never easy to craft, much less to obtain consensus upon, and those efforts deserve a lot of credit.

It is not necessary to determine whether the genesis of those recent efforts was the ballotand#8217;s formal argument against or an acceleration of ideas already in process. What matters is that progress has been made. Voters now must vote their belief that these longer-range plans will become reality, that they will be executed and reported upon.

Accountability is in focus. Status quo is being challenged. It is how a democracy works. The fact that intelligent, purposeful conversations are occurring about accountability is a positive.

My own objectives are no different than those of the district, parents or students and#8212; delivery of a high-quality education with accountability by every district employee, first to students, secondarily to taxpayers. Itand#8217;s a shopworn catchphrase but it still holds true: Itand#8217;s all about the students. Precisely.

Credibility suggests that just a few examples of my own volunteer commitment to education are in order. These include three years as a guest lecturer in the University of California system; leading a ten-week financial literacy program for high school seniors and juniors, joined by my professional colleagues; annual fundraisers for a local elementary schooland#8217;s PTO; Junior Achievementand#8217;s many student workplace events and its annual fundraising galas; student mentoring; and, currently, assisting the district and community team that is planning TTUSDand#8217;s 2011 Career Day for high school juniors.

On my desk sits the unmarked ballot for Measure A, a yes or no outcome yet to be individually decided based on what is known now. The Truckee/Tahoe communityand#8217;s voices will determine whether Measure A passes in March or, like an incomplete assignment, is sent back for rework and re-grading.

Regardless of where you stand, please make sure that your voice is heard by voting.

Don Spano is a Truckee resident.