School district readies for slew of cuts


Educators are hoping that Measure A, the property tax proposition, will pass and save the jobs of some teachers and help reduce cuts in other areas.

By Jonathan Friedman / Special to The Malibu Times

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s updated budget proposal from Friday, commonly known as the May Revise, did not present many surprises regarding education funding for the Santa Monica-Malibu School District officials in a preliminary analysis. Jan Maez, the SMMUSD’s chief financial officer, said on Tuesday that the district will have to cut about $8.9 million from its budget as officials had first projected in November. But that number could go down if Measure A, the $198-per-parcel tax, is approved on Tuesday.

The SMMUSD is headed for a slew of cuts, including loss of programs, increased class sizes and staff reduction when it finalizes its budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year. The Board of Education will vote on the budget June 18. Fifty-eight teachers, counselors and nurses have already received notices that their jobs are done once the school year concludes. The number was previously at 61. But a judge reinstated a Santa Monica first-grade teacher last month and the district withdrew its layoff notices for two Santa Monica counselors. All the actions were done for legal reasons.

The passage of Measure A, which would generate an estimated $5.7 million for the district, could bring back jobs for at least some of those staff members, but not all of them. The budget deficit, caused by reduced revenue from Sacramento, is too large. Measure A is a mail-in election, and ballots are due on Tuesday. The SMMUSD has scheduled a Board of Education meeting for the following day.

Measure A has a five-year lifespan. Senior homeowners age 65 and older have the ability to opt out of paying the tax. The measure must receive approval from two-thirds of the voters for passage. Advocates for the measure say passage is crucial to maintaining an excellent school district.

“We are fortunate to have outstanding public schools in our community, but unconscionable budget cuts by Sacramento threaten to undo years of investment and improvement,” said Santa Monica-Malibu Council of PTAs President Shari Davis in a press release issued on Friday in response to the May Revise.

The proponents have raised more than $300,000 and spent more than $200,000, according to campaign finance statements. They have assembled large armies going door-to-door, encouraging people to vote for the measure and created glossy mailers that were sent to residents’ homes. They also have put up a sophisticated Web site.

Meanwhile, the opponents have limited their campaign to a Web site and their arguments that appear on the ballot alongside the arguments of the proponents. There is no organized opposition. Those who oppose the measure do so for various reasons. Malibu resident and SMMUSD alumnus Wade Major is against it because he feels the district is a Santa Monica-focused organization. Malibu resident Doug O’Brien said the district should not look for additional funding, rather it should just chop away at the spending. “In my household, when we run out of money, we quit spending,” O’Brien said in March. “I don’t just keep spending until I get impoverished. If I can’t afford to buy something, I don’t buy it. Government doesn’t seem to think that way.”

Others have raised the argument that the tax is a flat amount for all properties regardless of size. The measure’s proponents have said that is the only property tax that can withstand all legal muster. A tax based on square footage could lead to a lawsuit that the district does not have the time or money to fight, the proponents say.

“We didn’t want to take some kind of a risk that would lead to a stay on the measure and lengthy and costly litigation,” said Rochelle Fanali, who sat on the committee that recommended the parcel tax, in an interview earlier this year.

Ballots are due at the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office by 8 p.m. on Tuesday. It should be mailed enough days in advance to make sure the ballot could arrive safely. Ballots can also be dropped off only on Tuesday prior to 8 p.m. at the Malibu Library, Fire Station 99, Santa Monica City Hall or the Registrar’s Office in Norwalk.