The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has lurched from one fiscal crisis to another for the past two decades. It’s a deep, dark money pit run by administrators and governed by a Board of Education with little aptitude for managing money. Our children are held hostage and we taxpayers are asked to ransom them over and over. Some history:
1988’s Measure TT taxed properties at $58 per parcel. In November of 1990, Prop ES, a $75 million school bond measure, was approved by voters.
Measure Y, a $98 parcel tax, was approved in November of 2000. Backers claimed, “Without Measure Y, there will be severe cutbacks in academic programs, which will seriously harm the high educational quality we expect from our local schools … including cutbacks in funds for advanced science and technology.”
In 1994, Measure K boosted TT’s tax to $68 from $58.
School supporters floated Measure EE, a $300 per parcel tax in November 2002. It was necessary, they said, “to meet potential cuts in state funding.”
“(It) may be the only way local schools can avert slashing programs and staff,” said then school superintendent John Deasy at the time. Voters said EE was ”too much” and it failed.
Measure S, a $225 parcel tax, was approved in June of 2003. Campaign propaganda warned, “pink slips have made the rounds at local schools due to recent budget cuts from the state. Passage would … restore teaching positions and other programs including music and arts programs.”
In May 2004, the city of Santa Monica approved a Facility Use Agreement with the SMMUSD. It provided $6 million for SMMUSD coffers and featured a cost of living adjustment that adds hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
Measure BB, the district’s $268-million “safety and repair bond" was approved by voters in November 2006.
In November 2008, temporary, “emergency” tax measures Y and S (which were about to expire) were combined into Measure R for a $346 annual total tax, per parcel. It passed. Unlike Y and S, Measure R is permanent.
Now, another parcel tax, Measure A with a $198 annual charge per parcel, is seeking voter approval via special mail-in ballot. And, another school improvement bond measure could be on a ballot as early as next year.
District Financial Oversight Committee chair Michael Rich (a RAND executive vice president) told the school board on March 12, 2001, "Over the last 20 months the financial crisis has become a crisis of competency and credibility, requiring fundamental reforms of serious systemic problems.”
For five years, the mismanagement continued. Then, the Daily Press reported on Nov. 20, 2006, about a tentative agreement for a pay raise with the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association. Paul Silvern, Financial Oversight Committee chair was quoted, “Negotiating parties reached the agreement without considering the financial implication of a 5 percent pay raise …” which he said could “undermine the public’s confidence in the district’s ability to handle its finances, it could have detrimental effects on a future measure to increase parcel taxes …”
Previous school superintendent Dianne Talarico certified on an L.A. County Office of Education document that the district could meet the costs of the agreement. Chief Business Officer Winston Braham disagreed and resigned, setting off a fiscal crisis and a bitter controversy over “gag orders.”
The state-endorsed Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) reviewed district operations and said in February 2007, “Strategic changes in regard to spending, staffing, handling money and enrollment were needed. Continued changes in financial management policies, increased revenues and/or cuts in costs would be necessary to avoid future fiscal crises."
Meanwhile, the district continued to spend and add programs despite warnings about pending cuts in state educational funding, thus placing our children’s education in jeopardy. And, once again, certain select taxpayers are being asked to “fix” things with another tax increase.
Now, unemployment is near record highs, residential real estate prices are at four and five year lows. One friend has been unemployed for 26 months. Another’s small business is down 30 percent. My income is down. Yet, all our personal pain doesn’t matter to the cheerleaders behind A. Maybe one reason is that many of them are North of Montana homeowners, attorneys and wealthy business persons who don’t fret about a paltry $544 in school taxes.
Measure A’s $198 liability will be added to the $346 Measure R bite approved in 2008. If “A” passes, the combined tax liability for each and every non-exempt property in Santa Monica and Malibu will be $544 and increase annually because of Measure R’s built-in cost of living adjustment.
Although “A” will supposedly sunset in 2015, more than likely, parcel tax advocates will push to extend it permanently as has been the case with previous “temporary” measures.
Only a “No” vote will force reform and the promise of a better, more reliable educational district. Voting “Yes” means even more turmoil, instability, incompetence and taxes to come.
Bill Bauer can be contacted at email@example.com.