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Irvine Parcel Tax Supporters to Be More Aggressive

They hope to bring out more parents, who have a stake in raising extra money for schools, to vote.

January 27, 2000|MATHIS WINKLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This time, they'll fight.

With the memory of how November's low-key campaign resulted in defeat, supporters of the latest parcel tax measure before voters in the Irvine Unified School District say they won't make the same mistake.

They hope a more aggressive strategy will bring to the polls a greater number of parents, whose low turnout in November proponents blame for the loss.

And just to be sure, school board trustees, who placed a new measure on the April 11 ballot, have exempted people 65 and older from the tax this time.

Although their votes were not the only reason it lost, many seniors on fixed incomes opposed the proposal, arguing they did not have enough money to pay the tax.

The Nov. 3 vote, which asked for a $95 tax on all parcels within the district, was the third unsuccessful attempt to beef up the district's budget since 1983. Sixty-two percent of those who went to the polls voted yes this time, but it needed two-thirds consent to pass.

If the newest measure fails, district trustees must cut at least $4 million from their $140-million budget--a move that includes laying off about 100 teachers.

First to go would be the district's enriched arts, music and science programs, trustees said. But they felt obligated to take one last shot at saving Irvine's standing as one of the foremost school districts in the nation. If successful, the tax would bring an estimated $3 million to the district.

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This time, those running the campaign for the tax say they will drop the quiet style of the last campaign.

"You can sum it up in two lines: Save our teachers. Protect our property values," said Hank Adler, 53, a school board member from 1994 to 1998. "Last time, board members talked about reducing programs in the genteel way that school boards talk. There are many ways to interpret that. But there's only one way to interpret firing teachers."

But tax fighters said the senior exemption would divide the community, and the district has enough money.

"The first and foremost reason is that it will be age discriminatory," said Linda Lee Grau, 57, spokeswoman for the opposition group Irvine Secure. Tax supporters do not just want seniors to support the ballot measure, Grau said. "They want them to go out and sell the fourth go-around to a weary electorate. And that's wrong."

Leaders of Irvine's senior community said they are hoping for more activism this time.

"I think there needs to be more action, and more people need to be involved in the process," said Clarence Nedom, who chairs the city's senior council and worked on the last campaign.

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But the seniors can't be blamed for the measure's defeat in the last election. Nedom said he heard no complaints from seniors about the tax in November.

Marice White, who coordinated the 1999 campaign, blamed the loss on the low turnout of parents, the district's core constituency. Only 26% of the electorate went to the polls.

"We just didn't get enough parents engaged," White said. "I think that's where the key lies. Less than half of our identified supporters went to vote. Getting parents out is the main thing."

Informing residents about the district's financial problems will be crucial to success, according to other supporters.

"We need to give people the information they say they did not have and try to explain more fully what the circumstances are," Trustee Margie Wakeham said.

Tax opponents such as Grau and Eunice Cluck, who heads a group called Taxfighters, have set up Web sites to reach residents with their message.

The campaign already has the makings of a more slam-bang affair than previous races.

"When the opposition does make statements about the district, there has to be someone there to set the record straight," said Councilman Greg Smith, who served as a school trustee from 1985 to 1993.

But Smith warned campaigners that the message had to be clear: The tax would only form part of a solution to the district's financial problems.

"It's really important that everyone understands that this problem is only going to be solved by the passage of the tax, changes in the district's structure and increased fund-raising," Smith said.

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