CITY HALL A citizen-led committee voted to recommend that the Board of Education place a $385 million bond on the November ballot after polling results showed that prospective voters in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District were more likely to pass a bond than a parcel tax.
According to results from Goodwin Simon Strategic Research, which conducted two polls, 58 percent of the roughly 500 respondents initially said they were inclined to vote in favor of the bond measure, which would provide $385 million to improve facilities throughout the district.
That made it approximately 4 percent more popular than a potential parcel tax, said Neil Carrey, the chair of the Economic Feasibility Committee.
A bond measure only requires 55 percent voter approval to pass in contrast to a parcel tax, which requires a two-thirds majority.
For the parcel tax, you were starting 10 percent below what you would need to get it passed based on the poll. For the bond, you were already over (the percent needed), Carrey said.
Monday evenings vote largely reflected that pragmatism, with 11 members of the committee in favor of the bond measure and four against.
There were two schools of thought within the group.
The first supported a wait and see approach, holding off on either a parcel tax or a bond measure until voters settled the question of two tax measures that would stave off further cuts to the district.
A proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown would raise income taxes on Californias wealthiest and increase the sales tax across the board.
The second, put forward by activist Molly Munger, would increase the income tax for most Californians.
If both fail, the school district will be hit with a $5 million cut, school officials have said.
Money from a parcel tax can be used to fund things like teacher salaries unlike the bond measure, which can only be used for capital improvements.
Expending political capital and stretching voters pocketbooks with a bond measure in November that promises to cost property owners $185 per year on average might hurt the districts chances to pass a parcel tax if it needs to in the future, said Rochelle Fanali.
Its more prudent to wait and see what happens with the statewide tax measures with so much at stake for our students, Fanali said. Its potentially risky, and its not a risk thats necessary we take because its not money we need immediately.
It might also hurt the districts position with voters if the school was forced to lay off personnel to make up the $5 million cut as it spent millions more on new facilities, she said.
The second camp pointed to the state of Santa Monica High School, a 100-year-old campus that lacks basic facilities like sprinklers in some areas.
The campus is already losing out on money for facilities improvements. State officials are likely to take back a $57 million investment meant for the campus over a dispute over when contracts for the project were signed.
It should be a beautiful example of the center of the school district, and its absolutely falling apart, said Debbie Mulvaney, the outgoing president of the parent-teacher group at Samohi.
The bond measure would not just benefit Samohi, Carrey said.
Everything was looked at. We looked at and assessed the unmet needs in the whole district, Carrey said. Its clearly not going to be a Santa Monica-only bond at the high school.
Those in favor of running with the bond measure believed that passing up the November ballot would be a lost opportunity and that no money for the district should be left on the table.
If the November tax measures do not pass, the argument went, the district could go back to voters to ask for help, similar to the Save Our Schools campaign that netted $1.6 million for the schools in 60 days and the push to pass Measures Y and YY, a sales tax and revenue sharing agreement with City Hall that netted $5.7 million in 2011.
We have a track record of pulling together in a significant way, said Chris Harding, a local land use attorney and education advocate.
Voters approved in 2006 a $268 million bond measure for local public schools, and in 2008 Measure R, which combined two existing parcel taxes to raise more than $10 million a year for schools.
Some also suggested that it was a race against time in case either Santa Monica City Hall or Santa Monica College decided to put a bond measure on a future ballot.
City Manager Rod Gould and Don Girard, the senior director of government relations and institutional communications at SMC, both deny that their respective organizations have discussed bonds.
It was critical that the committee make a recommendation Monday night if it plans to get a complete proposal before the Board of Education in time for board members to consider it and then vote to either put it on the November ballot or not, Carrey said.
The committee will meet again to draft the language of the bond and then present it to the Board of Education on July 18.