Chris D. Funk, Superintendent of East Side Union High School District, at a media briefing in San Jose, Calif., May 10. (Amar D. Gupta/Siliconeer)
San Jose’s high-performing East Side Union High School District is asking voters for some help in retaining its staff and programs in a time of rising costs and declining state revenue.
Measure G, on the local ballot June 5, will provide the district approximately $6 million per year for seven years through a $49 parcel tax — if voters provide the two-thirds majority it needs to pass.
Senior citizens’ votes are needed to reach that high bar to pass the tax, but the schools and students will do without their money if they have to – senior homeowners can opt out of paying the tax if they wish.
“Measure G is important. There are so many measures on the ballot, but without Measure G, we will lose a lot of teachers, coaches and programs. The next generation needs a good education, teachers and support staff,” board Trustee Van T Le said at a May 9 news conference.
The East Side Union High School District gets barely half as much funding from the state as neighboring school districts such as Santa Clara, Palo Alto, Saratoga/Los Gatos and Mountain View. But East Side Union High students have a higher graduation rate, outperforming peers in the county and statewide.
Ninety-five percent of the students who enroll in East Side as freshmen graduate, 72% then go directly to college. By the time another year has passed, they are joined there by an additional 10% who took some time off and now are returning to school.
“I’ll compare those rates to anyone’s,” district Superintendent Chris Funk said at the news conference. “Key performance measures are growing every year.”
East Side students are 45% Latino, 43% Asian American – the largest contingent of those are Vietnamese – 6% white and 2.9% African American. Approximately 150 are homeless. With more than 50 languages between them, many do not have English as their primary language at home.
“We have to overcome a lot of challenges,” Le said, adding that the schools try to provide meals, books, clothing and health care to some students who need them.
Trustees President J. Manuel Herrera said the district faces challenges more prosperous districts don’t, with students arriving at its high schools two to three grade levels behind in reading and math skills and in many cases, “in every way not ready for high school. We bring them up in 1-2 years.
“Lives are being transformed, challenges being met, we are succeeding,” said Herrera, a lifelong resident of San Jose’s east side.
But this year, lower enrollment cost the district 21 teaching positions. A dozen others took other jobs and 25 retired.
“How do we improve the experience of our most vulnerable students?” asked Albert Tobias, a 2008 graduate from the district now working with Californians for Justice to mobilize the community in support of Measure G. “Students are the leaders we need. We want to make sure that we continue investing in our staff.”
The district intends to extend or improve its STEM instruction – science, technology, engineering and math – along with reading and writing, business marketing and management, vocational training, arts and music.
Funk explained why the parcel tax is needed: to offset state funding that’s declining with enrollment, operating costs that stay the same, growing needs of special ed students and ever-higher pension funding.
The district had 26,000 students eight years ago, 23,000 now and expects enrollment to drop to 18,000 in the next six to eight years, said Funk, who’s been superintendent six years.
Enrollment is declining, he said, because the high cost of living discourages new families from moving in so birth rates are dropping. Also, 12 local charter schools draw students and their attendant funding away from the district.
He points out that those charters also will benefit from Measure G in direct proportion to their number of students. Funk estimated that about $700,000 of the projected $6.2 million annually from the parcel tax would go to them.
East Side Union High School District is comprised of 11 traditional, comprehensive high schools, each serving 1,200 to 3,000 students and five smaller schools with about 500 students combined.
The Measure G tax will go to programs and teacher pay, not to administrators or capital improvements – buildings and such.
East Side is Northern California’s largest high school district. It maintains a 30-1 student-teacher ratio, and gets $10,500 in state funds per student, Funk said. Districts such as Santa Clara Unified, Saratoga/Los Gatos, Mountain View Palo Alto and Los Altos get twice as much, based on higher property values there, he said. Also, voters there have been generous, for instance in Palo Alto approving a $750 parcel tax, 15 times more than what East Side Union High is hoping for with Measure G.
Measure G funds will be overseen and audited by an independent citizens panel. The district’s spending of bond funds earmarked for capital improvements in the past six years, Funk said, has consistently met with auditors’ approval.
Besides emphasizing that the elderly can opt out of paying Measure G’s proposed $49 parcel tax if they wish, proponents point out that the funds will stay within the community. Unlike state funding that’s tied to income tax revenue and fluctuates, the parcel tax will provide a consistent, predictable source of funding.