LAUSD’s Measure EE faces ‘tough road’ if turnout is low in June, polls say
Teachers, other supporters out in force to persuade voters that parcel tax is critical to district’s finances
A new poll indicates Measure EE is likely to fail if voter turnout on June 4 is as low as expected in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Probolsky Research’s poll suggests a higher-than-average turnout would make the district’s proposed parcel tax competitive, but if turnout drops too much, the measure will struggle to reach the necessary two-thirds majority.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance, according to Adam Probolsky, the company’s president.
“People are persuadable,” he said. “This isn’t a presidential election where everyone isn’t going to move from their position, but clearly, it is a tough road in the lower turnout scenario.”
If 17% of voters show up, the polling projects 62% would vote yes, with another 6% still unsure. If the turnout is halved, the yes votes drop to 57%.
Probolsky’s company is nonpartisan and unaffiliated with either side, he said. The firm conducted the polling because Probolsky saw a lack of data on the possible outcomes, he said. The poll is based on a survey of 400 voters by phone and online, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5%.
Special elections often struggle to attract voters. Only 9 percent of 314,143 registered voters cast their ballots in the special election for LAUSD’s District 5 board seat earlier this month, according to results from the Registrar-Recorder’s Office website.
Measure EE is a 16-cents-per-square-foot parcel tax that pledges to pay for lower class sizes, help to retain and attract high-quality teachers, and improve services and programs for students. Proponents say the money is necessary to make up for inadequate funding from the state. Opponents say the district has mismanaged its money and needs to reform before asking taxpayers to foot the bill.
Budget projections show the district could become insolvent within the next three years without new revenues or deep cuts. Changes to the measure suggest the district may see the money as a lifeline against health-care and pension debt that threatens to eat up half the district’s budget within the next decade.
Support for schools strong
In February, polling conducted by FM3 Research for LAUSD showed much stronger support for the parcel tax. Even with lower turnout, FM3’s survey indicated 67 percent would likely vote yes, with another 6 percent of unsure voters leaning in favor. FM3 found a strong correlation between voters who supported the teachers’ strike earlier this year and those who said they would support Measure EE.
The January strike galvanized support for schools in Los Angeles, said Julie Marsh, an associate professor of education at USC’s Rossier School of Education and co-author of a report in February on public support for schools in California.
“In Los Angeles, we saw that they rated their schools higher than we found statewide,” Marsh said. “We’re seeing support from Measure EE that is coming from all sides, including the unions and including charter schools. There is momentum, but the challenge right now is whether they’ll exceed the two-thirds they need.”
Another challenge will be persuading voters without children in the school system to back the measure, Marsh said. Research shows California schools are inadequately funded compared to other states, Marsh said, but supporters of Measure EE will need to convince the public that the new funding benefits the community as a whole.
Measure faces uphill battle
Overcoming low voter turnout is difficult even when there is no opposition to a measure, according Zev Yaroslavsky, a former county supervisor who now teaches at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.
“Typically, when you have lower voter turnout, and there’s a campaign on both sides, it makes it more difficult for the yes side to get a two-thirds vote. Not impossible, but it makes it more difficult,” Yaroslavsky said. “The people who tend to vote are older people, who tend to be a little more stingy with their tax dollars.”
However, in Los Angeles, the teachers’ strike and teachers in general are “very popular with the public across all demographics,” he said. The school district’s electorate tends to support taxes, too, he said.
Yaroslavsky said he could not recall a measure that started off with 73 percent of voters in support or leaning in favor. This could give the district’s campaign a bit of a cushion against the opposition from business groups.
But the special election on the same date for the District 12 seat on the Los Angeles City Council date hurt the measure as voters from that district tend to be among the most conservative, Yaroslavsky said.
Either way, the former supervisor predicts the measure will either win or fail by a relatively small margin.
“My instincts tell me this is going to be close,” Yaroslavsky said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it won, nor would I be surprised if it lost.”
Supporters continue push
Yes on Measure EE spokesman Yusef Robb noted that while all of the polling shows Measure EE is popular, turnout is critically important. Over this holiday weekend, the campaign has been out in force, walking voter precincts and making calls.
“The stakes for our kids, the stakes for our future, are extremely high,” Robb said. “This is a people-power campaign and that’s what’s going to affect turnout, because people are certainly for Measure EE and lowering class sizes.”
Several analysts questioned LAUSD’s decision to push for a special election in June. Most agreed the district would fair better if it held off for the guaranteed larger turnouts in November, or the March 2020 primary. Asked if LAUSD would try again if the measure fails, Robb dismissed the question.
“The plan is to win Measure EE on June 4,” he said.
This Article was originally published online at Pasadena Star News by Jason Henry