No plans to ask voters for money

Hermosa voters will not be asked for money to help maintain school playfields and a gymnasium, unless there is a dramatic reversal in the momentum against the plan.

The city School Board had considered placing a ballot measure for more funding before voters, who have rejected two previous funding measures. But last week the City Council all but put the notion to rest by rejecting a request to join the ballot measure as a partner.

School board members went into last week’s joint meeting with a consensus that they would not ask voters for more money, unless the City Council joined in to seek money for city parks. At the meeting, School Board members were split on whether to actually ask the council to partner in a ballot measure, and the council showed little interest.

The ballot measure plan was not formally killed, but it was left gasping.

However, City council members pledged to continue seeking ways to help the school district, which faces steepening declines in its state funding and uses private fundraising to pay for about 10 percent of the schools’ operations.

The City Council last year gave $100,000 in services to the two-campus school district, and at the meeting officials discussed the possibility of raising more revenue by charging for parking at Hermosa Valley School during events such as the Fiesta Hermosa street fairs.

But the ballot measure plan met resistance from council members who said they did not have enough information on the school district’s finances to make a decision. And some members School Board joined council members in questioning whether the playfields and gym might not rate a funding request the electorate, while further cuts in academic programs are possible.

The school district has lost its music programs and trimmed its class-size reduction program for early grades, allowing student-teacher ratios to grow from 20-1 to 25-1. The district also cut hours for librarians and health aides. Parents and other community members raised $1.5 million during the last school year to forestall deeper cuts.

Mayor Michael DiVirgilio said he and then-Councilman Michael Keegan already had suggested to School Board members that the timing was wrong for the ballot measure, and it did not address the range of the schools’ needs.

DiVirgilio asked board members whether the ballot measure is “the ask” that the board wants to place before voters.

School Board member Carleen Beste responded that no, it was not.
“I don’t think this is ‘the ask,’” she said.

School Board member Ray Waters spoke supportively of the ballot measure, saying the gym and playfields are used by the community at large “and the community should be involved” in paying for the upkeep.

But Waters also saw the handwriting on the wall, saying the voting public might not be convinced that the need for funding exists.
“The public seems to not understand what this is all about…But given that, we’re not going anywhere with this at this time,” Waters said.

Waters said the school district is bracing to lose $200 per student in another round of state cuts embedded in the governor’s proposed budget.

“It’s going to be grim,” he said.

“We’ve cut what we can cut,” Waters said, adding that further cuts might be made in teaching positions and academic programs.

Councilman Howard Fishman said he did not see a School Board united behind a new ballot measure.

“I don’t believe you’re rallying around this…I don’t see consensus from the board,” Fishman said.

Beste spoke of looking for more revenue from fees paid by sports leagues that use the gym and playfields, a position shared by fellow board member Jack Burns.

DiVirgilio and Councilman Kit Bobko said they want to take a more comprehensive look at the schools’ funding needs, and want board members to provide more detailed information on the school district’s finances.

“We need more from you than a power point presentation from a consulting group – by ‘we’ I mean also the community,” DiVirgilio said.
“I’d like to see something more comprehensive,” he said.
Bobko said he wants a clearer picture of the school district’s needs, adding, “When I say ‘needs’ I don’t mean what we need to continue what we’re delivering today.”

What does the school district “absolutely need,” Bobko asked.
“I think there is a problem coming. I think it is going to impact us tremendously in the next year. But I don’t think there’s been a clear picture of that communicated to the community,” Bobko said.

DiVirgilio added that the School Board had taken “a step” toward providing enough information, and Bobko said, “We are committed as a council and as a community to do what we need to do…There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re drawing closer, and we need to.”

School Board President Lisa Claypoole appealed to the City Council for any help it could provide.

“I would love to say as president of the governing board I am not here to ask you for money…But we need as much help as we can get,” she said.

Turning to cuts in state funding, which provides the vast majority of the schools’ budgets, she said, “We’re just being killed…And we have award winning schools, and that’s good for the community.”

Councilman Jeff Duclos said he wants to “extend the conversation” with the School Board, and wants to see more information on the effects of school cuts, including how music instruction improves students’ math scores.

“I think there’s a concept that these programs are extras,” he said, but cutting them could have the effect of “degrading the quality of our schools.”

The School Board had begun considering the ballot measure in July 2009, following the failure of two previous measures that required two-thirds majorities to pass. The new measure under consideration would require a simple majority of Hermosa property owners, and assess an estimated $30 or $40 a year for each parcel. ER

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