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I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the school district’s parcel tax ballot measure, Proposition J. So I’m going to be doing my best to blogging the answers and explanations over the next couple of days. Here we go:

If its budget situation changes a lot, can San Diego Unified reallocate the money to things that aren’t in the tax?

The tax sets out four categories of programs that the money can be used for: First, each school will get $150 per student for academic programs, which can fund anything from counselors to the arts.

About half of the remaining money will be devoted to keeping class sizes low. Smaller slices will go to classroom technology and to teacher training and curriculum for science, math and middle school English learners.

Several parents have asked me about Prop. J’s small print, which says that if the school board decides that its financial situation has changed significantly, it can reallocate the money.

The ballot measure says that if the school board reallocates the money, it still must be “consistent with voter intent in enacting this measure.”

Both school board President Barrera and school district attorney Mark Bresee said that even if that happened, the school board would still have to spend the money on the programs spelled out in the tax.

I didn’t want to just take their word for it, so I asked a neutral third party to weigh in. John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California, reviewed the ballot measure and said that there isn’t room in the ballot measure to spend money on other things.

“So I don’t think the clause you mentioned is particularly worrisome,” Matsusaka wrote me in an email.

Does San Diego Unified have to spend the parcel tax money to reverse employee furloughs?

Opponents of Prop. J, such as the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, argue that the school district will have to devote funding from the tax to canceling five-day employee furloughs.

Why? Well, under its teachers union contract, if San Diego Unified gets more funding than it budgeted when the contract was written, it must use half of that money to cancel furloughs. The idea behind the rule is that if funding is unexpectedly restored, the school year will be restored to its normal length, too.

However, school district officials said the parcel tax money wouldn’t fall under that rule. The teachers union contract says the rule only applies to money that “is not specifically restricted by law from being used for certificated salaries.” Craig Leedham, executive director of the San Diego Education Association, said that would bar the parcel tax from being used to cancel furloughs.

So does the rule apply or not?

Frankly, the legalese is a little thick for me. But since the school district and the union have been willing to state openly that the parcel tax will not be used to cancel furloughs, the public should be able to hold them to that.

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Got more questions about Prop. J? I’m explaining how the proposed parcel tax for San Diego Unified schools would work and exploring claims on both sides of the debate. Tell me what you want to know!

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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