Measure A extremely unlikely to pass

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, March 3, 2021

As night fell upon west county’s March 2 special election, voters had given the proposed West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) parcel tax a simple majority of votes, but not the two-thirds majority needed to pass. While the election is not yet certified, it looks nearly impossible for the measure to pass, even as mail-in ballots continue to be counted.

The Registrar of Voters Office will likely update the special election results by Friday, but most of the ballots have been counted for the two west county measures as of Wednesday morning, according to Deva Marie Proto, the county’s clerk-recorder-assessor-registrar of voters.

She estimated on the morning of March 3 that there are about 2,500 mail-in ballots and 150 provisional ballots received that still need to be “scanned, signature-checked and extracted before they can be counted.”

As of 10:55 p.m. Tuesday night, 55.25% voted in favor of Measure A and 44.75% voted against the proposed district parcel tax out of 12,285 votes counted so far, according to the results posted by the Registrar of Voters Office.

Measure A needs a two-thirds majority to pass or roughly 66% approval among voters participating in the election, according to its full text. Even if all of the outstanding ballots currently in the registrar’s possession are cast in favor of the measure — an unlikely occurrence — it still only creates 63.19% yes votes, short of the needed 66%. While it is possible additional mail-in ballots will be received over the next three days, it is unlikely they will be enough to turn the tide.

Measure A seeks a $48 annual parcel tax for three years to save music, art, dance, culinary shop and other career technical programs, maintain low class sizes and keep teachers and staff at Analy, El Molino and Laguna high schools, according to its text. It would replace another $48 parcel tax set to expire at the end of the 2020-21 fiscal year.

If Measure A fails, WSCUHSD will have to move forward with its structural deficit but without the $1.15 million the parcel tax was projected to raise, per the Sonoma County counsel’s impartial analysis of the measure.

As of Wednesday morning, WSCUHSD Board President Kellie Noe had resigned herself to the apparent loss of both Measure A and Measure B that proposed a lodging tax that would have also directed revenue to the struggling district, saying there weren’t enough votes outstanding to hit two-thirds.

“I was hopeful that the community would turn out and again, support our students in the west county and clearly, that’s not where it landed in the night,” she said. “So, it just puts a lot of stress back onto the district to really make a decision maybe sooner than we would have liked to around how we can truly create a budget that’s sustainable and also offers quality programming to all students in the west county.”

Noe said a passage of either the parcel tax or Measure B would have secured a year in bridge-funding to have more strategic planning around providing quality education to west county youth, but now the board of trustees will need to decide on budget cuts.

Superintendent Toni Beal convened a budget committee that will report their findings next week, but the district needs to make a March 15 deadline to issue layoff notices so people can prepare before official layoffs would come in May, as well as for the district to “prepare for what education offerings might look like next year,” she said.

Sapped by declining enrollment, the district has certified its first interim budget as “qualified,” or potentially unable to meet its financial obligations for the current fiscal year or the following two years and considers more seriously consolidating its schools, Sonoma West Times & News reported in December 2020.

The district so far has approved a resolution to wait a year if one measure passed, two if both passed and consider merging student populations sooner if neither passes, Noe said.

It’s not set in stone, but the current consideration is to bring El Molino High School students onto the Analy High School and Laguna High School campuses, and Laguna students onto the El Molino campus without officially closing any campuses, according to the board president.

The savings from merging student populations and cutting administrative costs would allow WSCUHSD to offer more programs to all students in the district, she said.

“Because the other challenge is both of our high schools … especially El Molino, (have) gotten so small that we’ve had to cut so many programs over the years that we’re just not able to offer diverse programming anymore for the students,” Noe said.

The entire west county special election, including voters of both WSCUHSD and the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District (BBFPD), has a voter turnout of 34.42% with all 111 precincts reporting in and about 12,853 ballots cast out of 37,339 registered voters, as of Tuesday night.

This means the Registrar of Voters has received and counted all the polling place ballots, but the office will still need to wait three days to see if any vote by mail ballots come in postmarked on or before Election Day, “go through all the rosters to give all the in-person voters credit” and “do a manual tally of ballots to ensure the computer results are accurate,” Proto said.

After initial results were posted around 8 p.m. on election night, the tally was updated again nearing 11 p.m. and no new updates have been posted since as of Wednesday morning, March 3. The incoming results are available at here:  https://results.enr.clarityelections.com/CA/Sonoma/108411/web.274956/#/summary

“We’ll see where we are at the end of week. Since it’s small, we should get the majority of them done pretty quickly,” Proto said, adding the office has 30 days to certify the results but will do so before then.

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com