CITYWIDE — Everyone knows that a good education costs, and that expense is going to go up in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District next year.

How much, however, is something of a mystery.

Locked in are the inflation-based increases on the Measure R parcel tax passed by voters in 2008, which will likely be set at $366.45 after the Board of Education has an official public hearing on the matter in the coming weeks.

That’s up 2.1 percent from the current $358.91 per parcel that was established in February 2010.

Slightly more fluid are the bonds, which district voters dutifully encumbered their tax rolls with in 2006 in the form of Measure BB, a $268 million measure that has slowly but surely begun to make significant changes in the district.

Measure BB’s millions, which promised to charge property owners under $30 for every $100,000 that their property is worth, will be going to improvements at almost every campus in the district.

Construction is under way at Santa Monica High School to build the new Science and Technology wing. Edison Language Academy will have a brand new campus come 2014 and expect to see new classrooms and technology at Lincoln Elementary.

At the last Board of Education meeting, held at Malibu City Hall last Thursday, board members laid the groundwork for the final $83 million in bonds that officials hope will be out on the open market by the end of the year.

That’s expected to pay for a new library, administrative building, general education classrooms and science and computer labs, estimated to be completed by the end of 2014.

While the new issuance will filter down to taxpayers eventually, how much it will impact tax bills is uncertain, said Jan Maez, chief financial officer with the district.

“Until we really go out there and sell those bonds and work up the actual financing of them when they occur, we’re not going to know,” Maez said.

The single BB bond is not supposed to exceed that $30 per $100,000 limit, but that’s not a hard cap and the district wouldn’t be penalized for going over that amount.

What is legally mandated is a requirement that bonds imposed by school districts not exceed $60 per $100,000 in assessed valuation.

The district is getting close, according to figures from the Los Angeles County Auditor-Controller’s office.

In the 2011-12 property tax year, taxpayers were looking at a $14,467,188 in principal plus $19,320,503 for all bonds issued by SMMUSD, including BB.

That came out to approximately $53 for every $100,000.

Running concurrently to plans to issue additional bonds is an attempt by schools in Malibu and the unincorporated portions of Los Angeles to split away from SMMUSD and form a separate school district.

The bonded indebtedness of the current district is a big part of those negotiations.

Malibu properties constitute 30 percent of the assessed value of the district, and if those schools were to leave, all of the bond debt would be squarely on the shoulders of Santa Monica taxpayers and the remaining 70 percent.

According to a presentation by Gene Yee of Keygent, the company that helps SMMUSD structure its bond deals, losing Malibu would push current debt levels above the $30 per $100,000 promised by BB and make it significantly more difficult to cash in on the remaining $83 million in bonds.

Any split with Malibu is uncertain, and possibly two years away by even optimistic standards, so the additional bonds would likely be issued and construction under way by the time the district had to take a hard look at its bond debt.

At this point, Malibu education advocates behind the split have expressed a willingness to come to the table to negotiate a work-around that would require Malibu property owners to continue paying off the existing bond issuances.

“If it works out the way we hope, the only bond-related change in (the new Santa Monica District) would have related to the split would be a slightly lower capacity to issue bonds based on a lower assessed value in the new, smaller district (and lower needs for the same reason),” wrote Craig Foster, member of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, in an e-mail.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *