The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Board of Education settled on $198 per parcel as the amount it will ask voters to approve in a mail-in election this May for a temporary/emergency measure to reduce a projected $14.5 million deficit.
If approved by two-thirds of the voters, the new parcel tax would generate $5.7 million per year over the next five years for the cash-strapped school district.
In an interview with the Mirror, School Board Vice-President Kelly Pye said that when the district’s consultant polled the voters to see what parcel tax amount would receive the most support, it was $225. However, after “careful evaluation” the $198 was decided upon. It is equivalent to $16.50 per parcel per month.
The Board said this amount would help the budget crisis, but also recognized that it is a tough economic time for residents.
Board President Barry Snell told the Mirror the measure is going to face “a real tough passage” due to the weak economy and also because “individual residents don’t understand school financing” or the type of cuts the district is facing.
Santa Monica and Malibu district voters already approved and pay a $346 parcel tax, which has no expiration. The new measure does not contain an escalator clause, so the parcel tax amount would remain at $198 for all five years, and there will also be a senior exemption for those 65 or older.
Snell said he is aware that the district just asked the voters to approve a $346 parcel tax in 2008 and that some voters don’t think the district is managing their funds properly.
Pye noted that if passed by voters, the revenue from the ballot measure would be audited annually and be overseen by an Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee to help guarantee transparency. The Board decided in January to have a mail-in vote specifically for this measure alone, rather than place it on the June ballot where it might have been overlooked. The mail-in ballot will cost the district $300,000, but they will not have to pay for the measure’s campaign expenses. It would have cost $100,000 if it had been included on the June ballot.
Pye stressed that the passage of this measure would benefit everyone.
“Our schools would remain strong and it helps keep our cities safe and desirable places to live,” he said. “It’s in the best interest of all our stakeholders.”California’s on-going budget crisis has caused the district to face unprecedented budget shortfalls. A $12 million deficit is being projected for the 2010-2011 school year, so even if the new parcel tax passes, the Board will still have to make significant budget cuts.
The Board discussed a menu of proposed reductions at a budget workshop on January 30. The District is considering reducing certificated staff (teachers, counselors, nurses and administrators), classified staff (custodians, maintenance, library staff, security, etc.), increasing its class sizes, and more reductions in programs and other expenses. The District is also considering the possibility of furlough days for all employees.
Mirror Contributing Writerhannah@smmirror.com