San Diego Unified School District parcel tax, Measure J (November 2010)

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A San Diego Unified School District parcel tax, Measure J ballot proposition was on the November 2, 2010 ballot for voters in the San Diego Unified School District in San Diego County.[1] It was defeated.

Measure J proposed a $98/year parcel tax for single-family residences, $60/year for apartment and condominium units and $450/year for commercial/industrial property. The tax, which would have lasted for 5 years, was expected to generate $50.08 million annually.

The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) projected a budget deficit in the range of $127 million for its 2011-12 budget.[2][3]

The SDUSD school board spent $130,000 on studies and polls to see if voters in the district might vote in favor of a parcel tax.[4]

If Measure J had been approved, funds from the tax would have been distributed to every school in the district at the rate of $150 per student. Individual schools could have used the funds to purchase supplies, fund vocational education, support music and art programs, and hire teachers.[5]

Election results

  • Yes: 133,582 (50.75%)
  • No: 129,638 (49.25%) Defeatedd

Election results are from the San Diego County elections division as of November 26, 2010.

A two-thirds supermajority vote was required for passage.


"Yes on J" campaign logo

Through September 30, "Save Our Schools — Yes on Prop J 2010," the campaign committee supporting Measure J raised approximately $243,000.[6] They expect to raise twice that amount, for a total of about $500,000, by election day.[5]

Larger donations to the "Yes on J" committee came from:

  • Irwin Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm: $45,000[6]
  • Construction and carpentry unions: More than $100,000[6]
  • The SDUSD teachers union: About $27,000[6]
  • Putting Students First: $50,000[6]

SDUSK board member John Lee Evans said, "“This is a chance for San Diego voters to say ‘we are going to support our local public schools with a parcel tax'."[2]

Supporter Michelle Huffaker said, "Without this emergency parcel tax initiative which amounts to a little more than 25 cents a day for a single family home, we are going to see major cuts in music, arts, athletics."[2]

The San Diego Education Association, the teacher’s union in the district, supported Measure J and is airing television commercials urging a "yes" vote.[5]

School board President Richard Barrera said after a July 13 meeting when the board first voted to put the measure on the November ballot that after spending two weeks trying to build support for the plan among San Diego opinion leaders, "I'll be very honest. It's been difficult -- it's been tough sledding." Barrera also said that getting the two-thirds supermajority vote required for passage will take "enormous time and enormous effort."[7]

Some observers expected the board to remove the measure from the ballot after Barrera's expressions of pessimism. Later, when Barrera said he would devote himself to getting the measure passed, and the board did not attempt to remove it from the ballot, school board candidate Scott Barnett commented: "Amateur hour at San Diego Unified School District. Is this a homeowners association or a school board?"[8]


  • Opponents Eric Christen said, “This is clearly not a board that deserves one more dime of tax payer dollars because it has demonstrated it is incapable of governing that money effectively.”[2]
  • Opponents who spoke to the SDUSD board about the parcel tax said that if the tax passes, the $50 million will be spent on pay raises the SDUSD board negotiated for teachers with the San Diego Education Association.
  • The editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune opposed Measure J, saying, "San Diego Unified ... has operated in ways that would mystify anyone with a mastery of basic mathematics. Whether revenue is strong or weak, even with enrollment flat or down and inflation low, district officials have a history of seeking and projecting substantial annual increases in spending. But since the revenue crisis made that impossible, the school board has made inadequate efforts to reduce by far the biggest item in the district budget – employee compensation – while practically every other budget category has been starved."[9]
  • The San Diego County Taxpayers Association opposed Measure J. They said that the way Proposition J is worded, the school district isn't required to continue its pre-existing funding for the projects it will support. This means, they say, that the school district can play a "shell game" with Prop J funds under which it could "use the tax money to replace its existing spending for those programs, then transfer money it would otherwise spend on them to other things."[10] According to John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative & Referendum Institute, "The measure clearly states that the money should not be used to pay administrators. However, if the district wanted to (say) increase the salary of an administrator by $1,000, it could reduce the amount of money it would have otherwise spent on classroom instruction from other funds by $1,000 and use it pay the administrator, and then use the new tax to cover the hole in classroom instruction spending. ... I am not suggesting that anyone is considering doing such a thing, only that because of the fungibility of money, there is really no way to control where it will effectively (as opposed to nominally) go within the budget ..."[10]

Fact check analysis

The "San Diego Fact Check blog," published by the Voice of San Diego, presented an analysis of a ballot argument claim made by supporters of Measure J.

The ballot argument asserted that the San Diego Unified School District had "cut 500+ administrators."

According to the Fact Check website, this claim is false.

"To support its argument, Proposition J supporters touted eliminating more than 500 central office personnel and in this case, described cutting more than 500 administrators. To be exact, the district reduced central office staff by 534 positions between the 2008 and 2010 fiscal years.
But here's the problem: The cuts to central office personnel included many positions that fall outside the district's own definition of an administrator and outside the implied cuts to bureaucracy. The central office cuts included, for example, 10 bus drivers, 20 campus police officers, about 30 skilled laborers and more than 200 assistants who helped disabled children."[11]


See also: Polls, 2010 ballot measures

Date of Poll Pollster Support Oppose Undecided Number polled
October 5-7, 2010 SurveyUSA for ABC 10 24% 46% 30% 577

T.J. Zane of San Diegans Against Government Waste said, "The results [of the October 5-7 SurveyUSA poll] are encouraging from the standpoint the public is tired of the propaganda."[12]

Text of measure

The question on the ballot:

Proposition J: To prevent Math, Science and English teacher layoffs, protect neighborhood schools from state budget cuts, prevent cuts to essential academic programs, job/college preparation, and preserve small classes, shall San Diego Unified School District levy a Temporary 5 Year Emergency annual tax that Sacramento can not take away of $98/single family home, and taxes on other types of parcels, exempting low income seniors, with independent audits and no money for administrators’ salaries?[13]

See also

External links