'We don't fight with our teachers union': Arcadia Unified superintendent on why parcel tax passed

Arcadia High School, one of the many that can look forward to benefiting from the city's parcel tax.
Arcadia High School, one of the many that can look forward to benefiting from the city's parcel tax.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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The final vote count became official last week for Arcadia Unified’s parcel tax ballot measure. In a vote-by-mail ballot, the parcel tax yes votes reached the two-thirds ballot threshold by 58 votes.

The $228 per parcel, yearly tax is expected to generate about $3.5 million annually for Arcadia schools.

"Like all school districts in the state of California, we’ve been cut," said Arcadia Unified Superintendent Joel Shawn. "We felt that our community was ready to stabilize our funding, so we went out to get some money that we could depend on."

In recent years, amid severe funding cuts from the state, more than half a dozen L.A. County school districts have placed similar parcel taxes on the ballot to generate funds. Most of the efforts — including those in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Pasadena and Santa Monica — have failed.

Why did the parcel tax pass in Arcadia? "There’s an incredible relationship between us and the city," said Shawn. "We do not fight with our teachers union, and our other unions. We work collaboratively. And I think all those things added up for why it passed here. Why that may or may not transfer to other places, I really don’t know."

Arcadia Unified’s 10,000-student, largely upper middle-class district is different from the 650,000 and mostly working-class L.A. Unified School District.

"We built on the support we know we already have for our schools," said Shawn. "This community has been incredibly gracious. They understand the value of a high-performing school district and we were able to go out and say that this is an opportunity for them to help us continue to be excellent and not be victimized by Sacramento cuts."

In November, L.A. Unified voters will go to the polls for a nearly $298 per parcel tax that could generate $255 million yearly for the school district. Yet this and other parcel tax campaigns could hold lessons for L.A. Unified’s effort.

One more reason Arcadia voters supported the parcel tax: "We know people feel and believe that their property values are connected to the value of the school district," Shawn said.