SMMUSD HDQTRS — In the wake of Monday’s release of Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest budget proposal, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Chief Financial Officer Jan Maez was left shaking her head.

“Right now, we’re trying to translate what they’re saying into how it affects us,” she said, reading and rereading a convoluted paragraph of government speak.

The state of California’s finances, and therefore the district’s budget, is so uncertain that the Board of Education put an item on its agenda to reconvene a citizen-led commission to look into the possibility of passing another parcel tax and bond measure to support local schools.

If the board votes to activate the committee, it would be tasked with gauging the popularity of an emergency parcel tax to be placed on the November 2011 ballot, as well as a capital improvement bond which would be brought back in early 2012.

The committee would get $50,000 to poll voters about the parcel tax alone, and would need to bring back the recommendation by Aug. 10 to have a shot at getting it on the November ballot.

The idea is to find out how open voters would be to providing extra money to help the district fill in more funding gaps that might come down from the state level, said Superintendent Tim Cuneo.

“The board’s interest is two-fold,” Cuneo said. “We don’t know what the state budget future looks like, and the complications it will have on the district’s ability to continue at the staffing level and program offerings.”

Although the recently-passed Proposition Y and YY money covers a portion of the losses, it won’t save everything, particularly if the governor fails to pass extensions on state taxes that expired this year. Prop. Y is expected to generate roughly $12 million annually through a half-cent sales tax hike approved by Santa Monica voters, with half of that money promised to public schools.

As it stands, the school district could be looking at anything from “flat funding,” or a $19 decrease in per pupil money, to a loss of $679 per student without the passage of the three state taxes.

Two organizations that help districts interpret the budget documents are suggesting that the proposal could result in the rosier of the two outcomes, Maez said.

“All that (Brown’s) got in it is still dependent on new revenue sources, the extension of those taxes. They’re a key component of the plan,” Maez said. “How they plan to do that is not clear yet.”

A parcel tax could provide safety net funding to protect popular programs at the school.

The idea has been on the table since the conclusion of the Y and YY campaign. The board did not disband the citizen’s committee, but instead kept it around in case the district would need to explore the option of another tax.

“It was intentional that the committee would stay in existence, continue its work and examine what was going on in the landscape of the school district,” said Shari Davis, president of the PTA Council and member of the citizens’ committee.

Although the item was agendized for Thursday’s meeting, the committee members weren’t told that they might be asked to come back into action, Davis said.

The last time the district tried to pass a parcel tax was in May 2010. Measure A, an emergency tax which would have put a $198 charge per parcel, failed to reach the required 66 percent majority.

Much of the opposition came from Malibu, which would have paid more than its schools received, said Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Laura Zahn Rosenthal.

The receipts of the parcel tax get divided based on the percentage of students that attend the school.

While Malibu has 18 percent of students in the district, it would pay over 30 percent of the parcel tax revenues because of the higher property values, Rosenthal said.

If a parcel tax were to come up again, it might be different this time.

The passage of Y and YY committed the city of Santa Monica to give half of the revenue from the recent half-cent sales tax increase to the schools, which might help soften Malibuites that benefit from the money but do not necessarily contribute to it.

“I think that given the state of the economy right now and what we needed to do last summer to save teachers’ jobs, it would get a higher percent, and I would work to make that happen,” Rosenthal said.

SMMUSD has one parcel tax already. Measure R, which combined two parcel taxes into one charge on property owners’ tax bills, charges tax payers $358 per parcel. It generated approximately $10.5 million this year.

The district committee will look at the budget projections for the next three years, to find out what level of deficit spending will be needed to keep programs going.

The citizens’ committee will also consider a bond measure to fund the school district’s master plan to improve facilities across the district, Cuneo said.

Committee members will look at the balance of the projects on the master plan that have yet to be completed and projected costs. Voters already approved Measure BB in 2006, which gave the school district the authority to issue $268 million in bonds for repairing and renovating outdated facilities.

“We already have a bond right now to improve secondary schools and security … and building an elementary school,” Cuneo said. “We would like to begin planning and completing the work.”

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