SMMUSD HDQTRS — In the spirit of collaboration, not competition, the school board Wednesday decided to cease all discussions of placing another parcel tax measure on the ballot after the Santa Monica City Council earlier this week agreed to ask voters in November to approve a sales tax increase to help fund education and other essential services.
The school board had the opportunity Wednesday to hire a firm to poll Santa Monica and Malibu voters to see what level of support there was for a parcel tax to make up for significant funding cuts to education made at the state level. But school officials did not want to place two tax measures on the ballot at the same time and felt that City Hall’s sales tax measure has a better chance of passing because it requires a simple majority, not the two-thirds vote a parcel tax would require.
“The polling would have cost a lot of money, as would putting another parcel tax on the ballot ourselves,” said school board member Ben Allen, who called the collaboration between the education community and City Hall “historic.”
“We just tried a parcel tax and while it came close to passing, it didn’t quite make it. We are giving this option a try. The fiscal crisis hasn’t gone away. If anything, it has gotten worse.”
After the failure in May of Measure A, a $198-per-parcel tax that would have generated $5.7 million annually for local public schools, the Board of Education was left with very few options but to make $7 million in cuts and lay off 58 teachers, administrators and classified staff.
The district was able to bring back some teachers because of retirements or resignations, and community fundraising efforts will save more teaching positions and other jobs in the district, however, school officials said more funding is needed to prevent devastating cuts to music programs, libraries and class-size reduction efforts.
The district, because of Proposition 13, is limited in what it can do to generate more revenue. A parcel tax is the preferred method but requires a two-thirds vote. Measure A just failed to secure that majority, with Malibu voters dragging the measure down.
It was believed that the board would move forward with another parcel tax following Measure A’s defeat. That all changed Tuesday when the council approved two measures for the November ballot, one which would raise the transaction and use tax, commonly referred to as a sales tax, by a half cent. The other measure is strictly an advisory one, allowing voters to voice their opinion on whether or not 50 percent of the estimated $12 million generated by the tax increase should go to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
Some feel that if both measures pass Nov. 2, the council with send roughly $6 million to the district, on top of the already roughly $7 million given annually as part of a joint-use agreement between the district and City Hall.
The advisory measure does not require the council to give any money to schools, creating some sense of uncertainty for the district.
Superintendent Tim Cuneo acknowledged the existence of that uncertainty, however, was confident that if the measures pass, the council will be committed to sending half to the district.
“It is advisory, but there is a strong interest on the part of the council in support of education and life-long learning, so we have to trust that both agencies have the interest of the community at heart,” Cuneo said. “Not only does the city want to provide essential services, the school district wants to make sure we provide our community police, fire and education.”