A long-shot parcel tax to offset some of the looming funding cuts in the Los Angeles Unified School District claimed a majority of votes but was falling well short of the required two-thirds majority in early returns Tuesday night.
Measure E sought a $100-per-parcel tax to raise $92.5 million annually for four years.
Top school officials made a symbolic last stand Monday at Mar Vista Elementary School on the Westside when school board member Steve Zimmer approached parents dropping off children. L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines then joined him to answer questions at a parents meeting.
"Children didn't cause this economic crisis and shouldn't be the victims of it," Zimmer said.
Officials also had been scheduled to appear Monday at four other schools, but they canceled those plans.
The entire campaign was scaled back compared to past successful efforts to pass school construction bonds. Those bids frequently had support from unions, philanthropists and construction firms that hoped to benefit from building and repair work. Of those players, only the unions emerged prominently this time, and the most politically influential, United Teachers Los Angeles, entered the fray in its latter stages.
Former school board member David Tokofsky, a longtime advocate of a parcel tax, said a halfhearted fundraising effort bequeathed an undersized, underwhelming campaign.
The school district ultimately spent $240,000 on an information campaign while the official campaign raised an estimated $300,000 for its work, officials said.
A proposed first-year budget for the parcel tax included funds to restore elementary music and art programs that had been cut in half and to prevent further class-size increases in core academic subjects in high schools. The hoped for infusion was never enough to make up all of next year's $640-million deficit.
But many parents rejected or never absorbed the full message.
"From what I've heard, things are not good," said Caerthan Banks, an Eagle Rock parent. "There's no money. Teachers are being laid off and there are cuts in funding for anything remotely artistic."
And yet it also was her impression that the proper vote was "no" based on her limited attention to the campaign.
From the get-go, observers considered Measure E a long shot because voter turnout was expected to be low and skew conservative — negative indicators for a school-funding measure. Additionally, parcel taxes for schools tend to fare better in more uniformly affluent areas.
Political strategist Glenn Gritzner, who worked on past district campaigns, but not this one, likened the challenge to a football team trailing by 10 points in the Super Bowl with 90 seconds left to play.
"You can't score 10 points in a minute and a half, but you try," he said, when there's so much at stake. "You don't just take a knee and say, 'Game over.' "