SMMUSD HDQTRS — Voters could be asked in May to approve an additional $225 tax per parcel that would raise about $6 million each year for public schools.
A district committee voted Wednesday to recommend that the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board place the tax on a special ballot. For the tax to take effect, the school board would have to vote to hold an election and two-thirds of voters would have to sign off on the tax.
With the district facing a projected $12 million budget gap, the Emergency Parcel Tax Feasibility Committee has been studying whether residents are likely to support an additional tax for education. After spending $61,500 to poll residents, the committee determined voters were reluctant to pass a tax of $425 per parcel — an amount that would have erased next year’s deficit — but might approve a lower amount. The committee said $225 per parcel is the highest amount voters are likely to support.
Santa Monica and Malibu residents already pay a $346 parcel tax to the schools, which amounts to roughly $10 million per year.
Rebecca Kennerly, chair of the Community for Excellent Public Schools, said the weak economy has eroded some support for additional local contributions to the district.
“It appeared that unlike in other times the economy was really impacting people’s ability to be as supportive as they wanted to be [of the tax],” she said.
School board member Oscar de la Torre said he supports passing the additional tax.
“I’m sensitive to the fact that many families are hurting because of the recession,” he said. “But we must ensure that the foundation of our recovery is an investment in quality public schools.”
The committee said the tax should last five years and include an exemption for senior citizens.
Neil Carrey, who chairs the committee, said he will urge the school board to hold a special mail-in election on May 25 on the tax, rather than place the issue before voters on the June 8 statewide primary ballot.
Holding a special election will cost the district $360,000, according to a Los Angeles County estimate, compared with $160,000 for placing the item on the June ballot, Carrey said.
But the extra expense, Carrey said, is worth it because research shows the tax would likely fail if it were part of the statewide ballot. One factor that would hurt the tax on the June ballot, he said, is that more Republicans are likely to vote in the primary because of a more competitive gubernatorial candidate field. Carrey said Republicans have shown a reluctance to support new taxes.
“The feeling is that if you wanted to do it on June 8, forget it,” Carrey said.
The committee will ask the board to commit to holding an election at the next board meeting Jan. 14, though the exact amount of the proposed tax likely won’t be decided until a later date.
Public education boosters are rallying around the committee’s recommendation but are expecting more than the usual amount of resistance from voters.
“I think there’s no question it will be our most challenging campaign to date,” said Shari Davis, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Parent Teachers Association.
The stakes, she said, also are higher. “We’ve never faced the numbers that were facing this time in terms of budget cuts.”