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School District To Consider An Emergency Parcel Tax:

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s (SMMUSD) Board of Education has decided to establish a citizens committee to examine the feasibility of an emergency parcel tax to help offset the District’s budget deficit due to the State’s deepening budget crisis.

Committee members will work with a polling firm and the community to raise questions about the feasibility of the emergency parcel tax, work out the necessary steps to place the parcel tax on a ballot, and make a feasibility recommendation to the Board no later than December 10, 2009.

Board members at the July 16 meeting, authorized the committee to spend up to $50,000 to poll the community and limited the committee’s size to 25.

Prior to the vote, the Board heard from community members who gave support to the idea of a Committee, but there was division among them, as to whether or not the committee should also look at other types of revenue enhancements.

District parent Debbie Mulvaney told the Board that the poll should be crafted by remembering we are “looking at a different [economic] environment than we’ve ever looked had to look at before” when developing prior parcel taxes.  “Rather than just asking if we should have a parcel tax … if the answer was no we would have no other options” so a more broad poll is needed.

Former district Financial Oversight Committee member Chris Harding favored supporting the broadening of the committees’ responsibilities but wanted the committee to focus on the parcel tax first and issues such as facilities bonds to rebuild Santa Monica High School later.

Superintendent Tim Cuneo recommended, “having the committee look at a parcel tax and a potential future bond measure.  I would not expand it for other enhancements … because the District” will get the greatest amount of leverage this way.

Board member Jose Escarce emphasized that the District should have “the mindset that this (emergency parcel tax funding) will go away” and not budget for it in the long term.  He also stressed that the “focus on the parcel tax should be very clear and should in no way be diffused because truthfully for operating revenues in terms of going to the community, it’s our only option.  There have been a number of other ideas that have been floated but this is the most reliable.”

The Board decision on the Committee’s responsibilities will be made at their August 19 meeting.

Applications for the committee are available at smmusd.org and should be submitted to the Superintendent’s office by August 11.  A Board subcommittee consisting of Board President Ralph Mechur, Vice President Barry Snell and Board member Maria Leon-Vasquez will review the applications and recommend a list of committee members for Board approval at their August 19 meeting.

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