SMMUSD HDQTRS — Voters are reluctant to support an emergency parcel tax to close the school district’s projected $12 million deficit, but may be willing to tax themselves a lesser amount to help close the gap.

That’s according to a committee charged with researching whether the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District should place a parcel tax on the ballot this spring.

Neil Carrey, the chairman of the school district’s Emergency Parcel Tax Feasibility Committee, told the Daily Press Monday that preliminary polling shows that voters are unwilling to approve a tax of about $425 per parcel — the amount Carrey estimates would close the funding shortfall.

“We felt that with more information it may possibly be feasible at a lower amount but we didn’t have a good feel for what that amount was,” Carrey said.

The committee asked for and received an additional $11,500 from the school board last week to do more research and polling after deciding that its first survey of 600 residents proved inconclusive, Carrey said.

The board in August dedicated $50,000 for the effort.

The committee wants to see if voters would be willing to pass a lower tax. The committee is expected to issue its recommendation to the board regarding a possible parcel tax election on Jan. 14.

With the additional funding, the committee will poll about 400 more residents to find out whether residents would be more likely to support an additional tax in the range of $225 to about $300, he said.

SMMUSD Board President Barry Snell said there’s no doubt the parcel tax is needed to ease cuts, but said the weak economy makes it a difficult proposition for voters.

“Peoples’ confidence in passing a parcel tax tends to be less because of the [economic] climate,” he said, adding he hopes the second survey will show voters’ confidence in the economy has rebounded.

While SMMUSD’s finances have been buffeted by contributions from City Hall and an already existing parcel tax, the district’s interim report presented Dec. 10 clearly shows cuts could be on the horizon.

According to the report, the district has identified $8.7 million in potential reductions that would mean class size increases in all grades, cuts to summer programs and a total reduction of 112.5 positions.

Before approving the additional funding for the survey, the board did not receive a full presentation on the results of the first poll. But Carrey told the board last week the recession has meant assessing the feasibility of passing a new tax is “much more complicated this year than it’s ever been.”

If the committee recommends holding an election to create the tax, Carrey said it will likely advise creating a “senior exemption” and will suggest stipulating that the tax sunset in five to seven years. If the district goes ahead with the parcel tax election, he said it will likely take place during the second half of May.

nickt@smdp.com