In the wake of the Santa Monica City Council approving a transaction and use tax measure
for the November ballot, almost all agree that the biggest hurdle will be getting voters to understand what the tax is and what it will do.
Traditionally the City contributes money to the school district through what is called a
joint use agreement. Large state deficits and a few plummeting budgets later, the City
has called in a yet another tax measure. Because of the narrow defeat of the $198-parcel
tax, the school district may receive funds from Santa Monica’s potential city tax.
In essence, this means that the City of Santa Monica will contribute a possible $6 million
more to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District if voters approve in November. The City already budgeted $8 million for the 2010-2011 school year.
“Quite simply there is a crisis brewing,” said Santa Monica City Council member Richard
Bloom. “The City has been faced with cutbacks and this will allow the City to maintain important services that the residents of Santa Monica receive now, and want to continue to
receive in the future.”
Santa Monica Board of Education member Ben Allen said that people will have to look at local alternatives ifthe State will not step up to give funding. Ultimately, it is up to the city council
to allocate funds, he said, but the council knows a strong school is part of the quality of life in a community. He also said the city manager and superintendent have be in discussion over the tax.
How the funds will then be actually allocated within the district is balancing on many uncertainties. Money will not reach schools until April 1, 2011.
“People understand there has been a dramatic decrease in funding from Sacramento and all over the state people are looking to local solutions,” Allen said. “People in community will listen carefully and this money will go toward strong public services.”
The hurdles include educating residents how the transaction and use tax is type of sales tax, but also how the tax is really two separate measures to advise the council on how to use the
money. The tax is not strictly a sales tax, but primarily targets revenue from big-ticket items purchased within the city.
“It is very clear that the challenge will be to explain the measure to the community,” Bloom said. “When voters understand the overwhelming benefit it will add to the community then the voters will support this measure.”
How the money is dispersed is not determined by either measure, rather by the City Council and ultimately by the Board of Education within schools. The accompanying advisory measure merely tells the city council in legally non-binding terms what voters want the money to be used for. It is up voters to decide if the money should be used for schools as well as city public services, and if the council can be trusted.
“If the council follows the advise of the community we can help both institutions,” Bloom said. “Frankly, I intend to take it serious and abide by the will of the people.”
The City of Malibu has a separate agreement with the district for $135,000 each school year. It has yet to be seen if Malibu will boost their financial contributions as well. With a dramatically smaller budget, $38 million versus the more than $0.5 billion budget of Santa Monica, the City of Malibu also contributes a much smaller amount of students to the district.
Malibu City Council member Laura Rosenthal said the school budget is very complicated in terms of who is donating what and what schools receive in return. She said Malibu gives much more through existing parcel taxes for what spending students get in return compared to Santa Monica residents.
So far the Malibu City Council has yet to discuss any additional tax measures similar to Santa Monica, Rosenthal said, but will rather wait and see how the election fairs come November.
“I think both are very dedicated to both areas of the school district and I am proponent for anything that brings money to the school district,” Rosenthal said.