Last summer, Innovate Public Schools parent leaders in Redwood City decided to put their efforts towards supporting Measure H, a proposed annual parcel tax on Redwood City homeowners, that would have raised an estimated $3.45M dollars a year for twelve years. These funds would have been designated specifically for much-needed changes such as raising teacher salaries, lowering class size, and special academic programs in the district and charter schools within the Redwood City School District. To pass, the measure required a two-thirds yes vote (66.67%), and the results were harrowingly close. 

We ended up with a 66.22% yes vote – the Measure lost by only 73 votes… 73! 

As the lead Innovate Public Schools organizer working with parents on this campaign, I of course wanted to win. As someone not very engaged in or knowledgeable about sports, political and community organizing campaigns are my version of sports fanaticism. But in addition to winning, I wanted this campaign to raise awareness about the need for educational funding equity, and an opportunity for true leadership development and community building for my local heroes.

These are the families making daily sacrifices to get their kids access to a high-quality education, community members who may not have their own children, but still care and get involved, educators putting in the work to get results for students and make school a great place to be, elected officials and public servants making decisions to do what’s right, and the staff of community organizations who work to offer the much needed services for families and kids. 

After working on this campaign for five months, I can say that I was deeply inspired and motivated by the communal effort. Even though it hurts to lose, losing by such a small number of votes shows that the majority of the voters did support this. We also had some other victories and milestones that resulted from this campaign. I wrote this blog because these are the things that the media will tend not to cover, but that still deserve attention. 

New Connections Between Redwood City Parents

One such victory was relationships built amongst community members from different socioeconomic backgrounds and amongst groups who hadn’t previously worked together. 

The majority of the families involved with Innovate Public Schools live and send their children to schools in the North Fair Oaks neighborhood, on the east side of El Camino Real. Many feel a bit isolated and that their schools like Hoover, Taft, Garfield, and KIPP Excelencia do not get as much attention or support from the district or community. They cannot fundraise hundreds of thousands of dollars like schools with wealthier parent populations, and therefore may rely more on organizations like the Redwood City Education Foundation or on parcel tax measures like this one (and are most often falling short of much-needed funds). But this campaign was a rare opportunity for high and low income families to work together for something that served both of their interests.

I am an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and I came to this country, motivated to get my children access to an excellent education. Even though I can’t yet vote in this country, I enjoyed working on this campaign to get those who can vote to vote yes, to support all children. It was great to build relationships with people I never would have met otherwise and to be included in the effort. I also saw that we need to do a lot of work in getting voters, families, and public leaders to wake up more to the needs of our children and schools. But I learned it is possible to make a difference if you get involved, and I feel like a stronger leader because of this experience. – Vanessa Carbajal, parent leader who volunteers with Innovate Public Schools

Building Public Support for Public Schools Together

Another victory was that the campaign went deep in its voter engagement. 

We did many hours of door-knocking and phone calls and canvassed at events such as Día de Muertos and Fiestas Patrias. 

I feel like we did an excellent job as a group of parents and community members coming together to solve a problem. We had up to 30 contact efforts with registered parent voters, and we literally ran out of people to call the last few days of the campaign and would start calling the list again! The outreach effort, volunteer commitment, and determination of our supporters was extraordinary. – Ann Hynecek, leader of the Yes on Measure H Field Team and a Redwood City School District mom

What did we learn?

This campaign also exposed some deep divides in our Redwood City community and the work that still needs to be done regarding working for true equity and social justice. We are still waiting to receive more data from the San Mateo County office of elections regarding how different areas of the city voted, and the data will shine more light on these issues. Early data seems to show overall low voter turnout, and that the precincts on the east side of Redwood City voted yes at higher rates than the west side precincts. This suggests that the people who most need the increased funding voted with most urgency, and those that don’t feel as much need did not.

It’s important for us to learn from this campaign to help us in future efforts. Here are some of the challenges and takeaways that were identified:

  • Two thirds is a significantly large percentage to obtain! Parcel taxes generally pass more easily in affluent school districts
  • This was a special election on an off-year where voter turnout tends to be low (imagine if this had been on the November 2020 election ballot!), 
  • The new county-wide vote by mail system is still unfamiliar to many voters
  • The school closures last year were painful for families and trust needs to be repaired in order to engage more families in campaigns like these 
  • A lot of work is needed to inform families and voters about how the city government and the school district relate to one another 
  • Right now there seems to be an overall mistrust of the political system which affected voter turnout

These takeaways are significant because we have a strong community that’s working through its divisions: conservatives and progressives, older and younger, White and Latino, schools with high and low proficiency of students, new Silicon Valley wealth and low income, owners and renters, etc. We need to figure out how to create a more equitable community even amidst the power imbalances. We need everyone on the side of children and social justice. 

What’s next

Our efforts are certainly not over! 

Whether it is future local parcel tax measures, supporting statewide education funding reform such as the School and Communities First initiative, or continuing to organize a variety of Redwood City stakeholders to make significant improvements in our schools for ALL students, we are determined! 

I am so grateful to everyone who participated in this campaign, especially our hard working families who need these funds, but are determined not to let this loss be an excuse for why schools can’t improve.