It’s easy to say no to our children when they’re demanding that extra piece of candy or an expensive pair of designer jeans. But, when it comes to education, it’s nearly impossible to look into their eyes and deny them what they need to succeed in a world that is more competitive than ever.
That is why the Santa Monica Daily Press, as concerned as we are about working families struggling to get by during this recession, must endorse the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Measure A, an annual per parcel tax of $198 (seniors exempt) that will be in effect for five years and generate a much-needed $5.8 million annually to help close a projected $12-$14 million budget gap. We cannot allow this community to place the burden of creating a balanced budget on the backs of our children, the future of our world.
Education has long been a core value in Santa Monica and Malibu. There has been widespread support for previous parcel taxes and bond measures. The Santa Monica City Council contributes $7.5 million a year to the schools, with another $10.4 million coming from property owners in the form of Measure R.
That investment is why the district continues to produce intelligent, socially-conscious, well-rounded young adults who go on to attended some of the most prestigious universities in the country. It is why the district’s music program is envied, why sports teams excel in the postseason, why aspiring entrepreneurs are named the brightest in the world and why this community attracts the most qualified teachers to make it all come together.
There’s no debate: our schools are great. But they won’t be for long if we don’t support emergency funding. Over the past two years, the district has been forced to reduce spending by $20 million because of less funding from Sacramento. The district has already identified nearly $5 million in cuts this year and teachers have agreed to take five furlough days this coming year and next, reducing the amount of hours our kids are in the classroom.
If Measure A doesn’t pass, class sizes will increase and teachers will be laid off along with librarians, custodians and security guards. Music programs and athletics could also be cut. If this happens, some families who can afford to may pull their students out of our public schools in favor of private institutions, further exacerbating the financial drought. Families already struggling will have to find ways to pay for tutors or music lessons they would have received at school, hurting those who need our help the most.
There’s no denying that residents are leery of voting for another tax, and they have every right to be. Times are tough. Many are having to make sacrifices. And that is why in endorsing Measure A, the Daily Press is also calling on those who care about schools to come together in the next year for a series of meetings to address the financial structure of the district and whether or not current operations are sustainable. This community talks a lot about living a sustainable lifestyle, and that must include our school system.
Permit students are an easy target of those looking to trim district expenses, and no one wants to break bonds that have developed within the district. However, if research shows that permit students are being subsidized, with the district receiving less money per student from the state than it spends, a plan should be put in place to phase-out those students and possibly close schools and layoff teachers as a result.
A detailed analysis of legal expenses should also be conducted to see if the district should be shelling out big bucks to fight special education parents battling for more services instead of funding more programs in-house, which could end up cutting costs.
The most important thing is we must live within our means. Something clearly isn’t right if the district needs to come to the voters every couple of years for a new parcel tax or ask City Hall for more cash.
The district must also explore other options to raise revenue. While selling T-shirts with “Samohi” branded on them is creative, as is installing solar panels on school sites to reduce energy costs, more thought needs to be put in to the types of parcel taxes put on the ballot. District officials said a flat, per parcel tax is the only way to go because of state law. However, a handful of other districts have passed parcel taxes that established separate rates based on square footage or other property improvements. Instead of a flat fee where the enormous Water Garden or Yahoo! Center pay the same as your average homeowner, we need to try something more equitable or risk losing support for the district. There may be some legal challenges to a new parcel tax structure, but it’s worth exploring.
The good news is the district has started to do some of the heavy lifting by cutting the fat. We need to continue to do so and with Measure A we can accomplish that goal without putting too much pressure on the kids, buying us some time to make reforms. By keeping cuts as far away from the classroom as possible, we can at least remain stable for the short term, giving us time to work out a sustainable solution for the long term.
It’s easy to say the district is mismanaged. Measure A opponents have been singing that song repeatedly, and there’s no denying that with any bureaucracy there will be some waste. But the financial trouble the district is facing is clearly not of its own doing. Many other factors, including a struggling economy, gridlock in Sacramento and fallout from Proposition 13, have contributed to the budget crisis. We can’t punish our kids for those mistakes.
When you receive your mail-in ballot, vote yes for Measure A and protect public education, thereby investing in the ones who will be watching over us in the future — our children.
Ballots must be received by the Los Angeles County Registrar/Recorder by May 25.