Measure A: Kenwood Parcel Tax
By Christian Kallen
More than 3,000 voters will see a ballot measure on June 7 asking for the renewal of a parcel tax to support Kenwood Schools. The one-school district is hoping that – if the measure passes – it will continue a small but reliable five percent of the district’s annual $3 million budget.
The measure, fortuitously named Measure A on the general primary ballot, calls for the extension of a $52 per parcel tax, the same amount as imposed five years ago and expiring on June 30, 2022.
As of mid-March, there were 3,410 registered voters in the Kenwood School District, according to T.J. Knezek of the county Registrar of Voters office. On June 7, all district voters can vote on Measure A, but only property owners will be affected – though their bills won’t change, as the rate remains the same.
The district is comprised of just a single elementary school and a preschool on the same property, at 230 Randolph Ave. Though Kenwood School District contains only one school, it’s far from the smallest school district among the county’s 40, two districts of which have about a dozen students each. Kenwood expects 114 students this year, to fill one class per year from TK (transitional kindergarten) through sixth grade. There’s also a pre-school of 19 adjoining, but those numbers are not included in school enrollment.
Before the pandemic, however, Kenwood had notably more students, 140 in 2017. Nate Myers, the school’s principal and district’s superintendent, said there were multiple reasons for the decline. “The 2017 fires [and those fires following 2017] have really created an anxiety that led some folks to relocate. Also, all of California is seeing a declining enrollment and Sonoma County has seen a larger decline than most.” Myers adds that the county office of education “predicts another 15 percent reduction in Sonoma County students over the next five years.”
Another factor: increased housing costs in the county drove many young families out of the local real estate market. “It is simply too expensive for young families with school aged children to live in this desirable area,” Myers told the Kenwood Press in an email.
Parcel taxes can only be imposed for up to five years at a time, and they tax for a specific purpose; a two-thirds majority of cast ballots is required for passage by state law. It differs from a property tax in that it’s not based on the value of one’s home, but is a flat annual fee per parcel. Myers pointed out that the Kenwood parcel tax is a bargain: “For example, the parcel taxes in place in school districts in neighboring Marin County average nearly $650 per year as opposed to our $52.”
The Kenwood School District is largely funded by federal revenues, state revenues, and local revenues including limited “special education” funds through Sonoma County. Aside from the parcel tax, other sources of income include $24,000 from the California State Lottery and donations to the Kenwood Education Foundation. The foundation helps pursue grants and donations and holds an annual “Lights, Camera, Auction” fundraiser event – to be held this year on May 21 – but even that’s not enough.
“However, despite the continued hard work of the many people in our community who support our foundation and attend our events, this funding is not guaranteed,” said Myers. “Each year is speculative in terms of the amount of funding that the school district may receive.
The needs of the current and future students remain consistent, and if Measure A passes, it is expected to contribute a muchneeded $110,000 a year to district funds. The most important part of this tax is to support student programs – not administration, pay raises, or facilities. According to the county counsel’s analysis, which will accompany the measure in the voter information packet later this spring, “Proceeds of the tax would be placed in a special fund and could only be used for the purposes set out in the measure, which include supporting quality STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), art, and music programs; providing for integration of modern technology into classrooms; attracting and retaining qualified teachers and staff; supporting classroom instruction; and supporting the social-emotional growth of students through high-quality counseling.”
And what if the measure fails to pass? Myers said, “We would lose four percent of our operating budget, resulting in cuts that would directly affect the quality of our instructional offerings for students. In addition to potentially larger class sizes, our technology program would be without funding.”
The Sonoma County Registrar of Voters will host an open house on Tue., April 19, focused on the Voter’s Choice Act election model. It will take place in person at the Registrar’s office, 435 Fiscal Drive, Santa Rosa, 3-6:30 p.m.