While developers’ lobbyists continue to beat the drum of the worn-out story that we need development to pay for schools, the facts show that schools and those who care about them have developed many sources of income to support them. School improvements are primarily funded by bond measures, while school district operations are primarily funded by the state legislature. We do not have to give our city away to developers to fund our schools.
With the Bergamot Area Plan on tonight’s (Sept. 10) City Council agenda , and the Bergamot Transit Village Center development agreement on the Planning Commission agenda Wednesday, perhaps we should review the history of school funding.
According to a July 2013 article in the Daily Breeze, “It’s difficult to believe now, but there was a time … when the Golden State was widely seen as the gold standard on education spending. Class sizes were low. Schools were well maintained. Textbooks and other instructional materials were new. Back then, California ranked in the top 10 nationwide in per-pupil education spending.” That was in the 1960s.
Since Prop. 13 passed statewide in 1978, California school districts, including the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD), have been funded primarily by the Legislature, based on average daily attendance (ADA). A January 2013 Ed Source article tells the sad story of what happened since 1978: “California drops to 49th in school spending … .”
As of 2010, “California’s per-student spending of $8,482 was $3,342 — 28 percent — below the national average of $11,824 … . Another western state, Wyoming — $18,814 per student — led the nation in spending … .”
According to the California Budget Project’s October 2011 School Finance Facts, “The Proposition 98 guarantee, designed to ensure a minimum level of funding for California’s schools and community colleges, has not prevented significant cuts to the resources available to schools … .”
In 2009-10, California ranked 50th in number of K-12 students per librarian (5,489 compared to 839 in the rest of the U.S.). And in 2010-11, California ranked 50th in number of K-12 students per teacher.
How did our local school district cope with this funding slide to the bottom? Parents and the community at large worked together to find additional revenue streams.
SMMUSD facilities improvements are currently funded by two bond measures: Measure BB for $268 million, passed in 2006 by 68 percent of Santa Monica and Malibu voters; and Measure ES for $385 million, passed in 2012 by 68 percent.
SB 50, enacted in 1998, allows California school districts to levy a fee per square foot of development to help pay for school facilities (not operations) — $3.20 per square foot for residential development and 51 cents per square foot for commercial development.
As an example, in the Bergamot Area, at 51 cents per square foot, the already approved 191,982-square-foot Colorado Creative Studios and the proposed 374,434 square feet of creative office space in the Bergamot Transit Village Center, would bring in $288,872 — an amount that would not stretch very far in a district with 16 schools.
State funding for SMMUSD operations is augmented by Measure R, a parcel tax passed in 2008 by 73 percent of Santa Monica and Malibu voters. In addition, Prop. Y+YY passed in 2010. Measure Y asked Santa Monica voters to approve an additional half-cent sales tax. Measure YY asked voters if half of the revenue provided by Measure Y should go toward funding education. It passed with 68 percent of the vote.
Local PTAs have also worked hard over the years to raise funds. This year, in order to provide equitable instructional opportunities at all 16 schools, the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation has embarked on a new fundraising campaign and is asking families to donate a dollar a day ($365).
Another funding source is the school district’s Master Facilities Joint Use Agreement with the city of Malibu, renewed for three years in July 2013. It brings the district about $180,000 per year in exchange for community access to certain school facilities.
SMMUSD has a similar Master Facilities Use Agreement with the city of Santa Monica. It brings in about $8 million per year and was renewed for 10 years in 2012. When the agreement was initially signed in 2004, the City Council raised the Transient Occupancy Tax (hotel bed tax) from 12 percent to 14 percent to cover the increase in city expenditures.
Since 2004, the number of hotel rooms in Santa Monica has increased. According to the Convention & Visitors Bureau, there are “more than 3,500 rooms,” and the hotel occupancy rate in 2012 was 83 percent.
The 710 Wilshire hotel project will add 275 hotel rooms. The proposed Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton and the Courtyard by Marriott, both at Fifth Street and Colorado Avenue, would add another 279 hotel rooms.
So the question is, will Santa Monica continue to be a place where families can raise their children and be assured that they’ll receive a good public school education? Or will it become an overdeveloped, high-rise, traffic-clogged city with part-time residents in Downtown luxury condos and short-term single residents living in the tiny Bergamot area apartments who will have to move elsewhere if they marry and need adequate living space for their families?
Although California schools have suffered many budget cuts at the hands of the state, our school district has developed a number of supplemental funding sources. It doesn’t seem to be necessary to destroy the character of our city with huge development projects, either Downtown or in the Bergamot area, to support the schools.
Zina Josephs is a retired teacher and longtime Sunset Park resident. The author and the other members of Our Town can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org