DOWNTOWN A $295 million bond measure for Santa Monica College and an update to the Utility Users Tax continue to rack up support from the education community.
The two ballot measures — the latter of which has been advertised as having financial consequences for schools if it fails — earned moral backing from the Santa Monica-Malibu Council of PTAs last week, the latest in a series of endorsements from political organizations and educational advocates.
The local chapter of the Parent Teacher Association took action on three measures which it believed could have some impact on public education, including Proposition T, which would limit commercial development to 75,000 square feet a year, Proposition SM, which would modernize the telecommunications portion of the UUT, and Proposition AA, which would fund various capital projects on the college campus.
The PTA ultimately decided not to take a position on Prop. T, ruling there is an insufficient link between the measure and future funding to the public school district. Opponents have argued the initiative could jeopardize the amount of money the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District would receive from City Hall under the Master Facility Use Agreement in which the two entities exchange access to school facilities for unrestricted revenue.
That money could be harmed because of the impact the measure would have in developers fees and business taxes, according to those against the proposition.
“We found that it was nebulous enough with one side saying there will be more of a dramatic financial impact than the other,” Colleen O’Beirne Brydon, the co-chair of the PTA’s Legislation Committee, said. “But a lot of the unbiased analyses of the issue was not coming out and saying there was significant and definitive fiscal effects.”
The decision didn’t come as a surprise to the measure’s supporters who pointed out that the proposition is about fighting traffic, not hurting the schools.
“Parents, teachers, seniors, renters and homeowners throughout the city support Prop. T because the City Council has failed to put any limits on commercial development,” Diana Gordon, the co-chair of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, said. “The result? Gridlock on our streets and no end in sight.”
The coalition authored the measure.
The PTA’s Legislation Committee, which consists of about 20 members, filtered down the long list of local, county and state measures to a small group of issues that pertained directly to public education. The group then made a recommendation to the full PTA organization, which made its decisions on Sept. 24.
The endorsements for the two measures didn’t come as a surprise as many educational advocates have spoken in support of the two measures in recent weeks, arguing the need to maintain a competitive college campus and protect the existing level of revenue City Hall receives under the Utility Users Tax.
Proposition SM would update the telecommunications portion of the UUT, which is assessed on natural gas, cable, water/wastewater and electricity. The language in the local UUT was modeled after the Federal Excise Tax, which has since been repealed.
But a number of cities who drafted the language in their own UUTs in similar fashion have been sued since the Federal Excise Tax was repealed. City Hall said an update is needed to protect itself from litigation, which could result in the loss of $12 million in existing revenue. The money is used for services such as public safety and education.
The measure would expand the areas of telecommunications currently untaxed, such as T-1 Internet service. Those in opposition to the UUT have argued that the measure would open the door for City Hall to tax Internet and satellite television when a federal moratorium is repealed in 2014.
“We determined there would’ve been more of a significant and immediate effect on school funding if the UUT was not renewed,” O’Beirne Brydon said.
The college bond would fund capital projects designed to improve teaching at the aging campus, replacing outdated buildings, many of which date back to the 1950s and were damaged by the Northridge Earthquake.
The average home or condominium owner would shell out $7 a month while renters would pay roughly $1 a month with the cost distributed over both Santa Monica and Malibu.
Some have argued that the proposition could have an impact on the school district’s ability to get support for future bond or parcel tax measures. Voters in 2006 approved Measure BB, which brought in $268 million for construction projects to the school district, and Measure R in February, which continues the existing level of revenue received from two parcel taxes.
Rebecca Kennerly, the president of the PTA, said it’s important to look at the college and K-12 communities as one.
“All of our students will have access to Santa Monica College both in Santa Monica and Malibu so it has a direct impact on all learners,” Kennerly said. “It’s short-sighted to say we can’t support one institutional organization in our community because it might hurt the other one.”