SMMUSD HDQTRS — School board members have already decided to ask Santa Monica and Malibu residents to pay more to offset lower state spending on public education. Tonight, they’ll decide how much to ask voters to fork over.

Facing at least a $12 million budget gap, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board is aiming to raise as much as $6.6 million per year through the proposed “emergency parcel tax,” which will come before voters at a special mail-in election May 25.

A district committee that recommended placing the measure on the ballot said the tax should be no higher than $225 per parcel, but didn’t recommend an exact amount. The tax would last for five years and would be added to a $346 permanent parcel tax residents already pay to the school district.

Two-thirds of voters will have to approve of the new tax for it to take effect.

In making their decision tonight, board members will have to decide what amount is likely to both win voter support and constitute a substantial benefit to the district’s coffers.

The district has already invested $61,500 to poll residents about the tax and will pay an estimated $360,000 to hold the special election, so getting enough bang for the buck is likely to be on the top of board members’ minds.

At a budget hearing Saturday, SMMUSD’s chief financial officer Jan Maez laid out the impacts of different tax amounts on the district’s finances.

A tax of $225 would raise roughly $6.6 million for the district, or about half the amount needed to close next year’s projected deficit. A tax of $198 per parcel would raise $5.8 million and a tax of $175 would raise $5.1 million. All of the estimates include a tax exemption for seniors.

The school board would have final say over how to spend revenue raised from the potential new tax. But district estimates presented Saturday suggest passing a tax within the range being considered would enable SMMUSD schools to avoid several painful cuts.

Shari Davis, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Parent Teachers Association council, said passing the emergency tax would prevent elementary school librarians, freshman and sophomore high school sports teams, some security officers and fourth and fifth grade music classes from being eliminated. Class size increases would also not be as severe, she said.

Board member Oscar de la Torre said he supports asking for $225 because he doubts lowering the amount would significantly increase voter support.

He noted even with a tax of $225, the board will be facing an operating deficit.

“Even if it passes we will still have to make some reductions happen,” he said.

Board member Ben Allen said the challenge will be to arrive at a number that “would make a substantial difference to our budget … while being respectful to the challenges the tax payers are facing.”

He said the board will likely heed the committee’s advice not to exceed $225.

“We will not be doing anything more than the recommendation. If anything, it would be a little bit lower,” he said.

Even if the measure is successful, though, the district will have to layoff teachers and possibly reduce the school year by five days because of teacher and employee furloughs. Reducing the number of school nurses and counselors is also under discussion.

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