By Edie Riggins/Special to The Malibu Times

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Malibu parents push for yes on Measure Sn June 3 is the date that will decide the fate of the property tax measure, which would bring in $6.2 million annually over the next six years to help ease the local school district budget deficit.

After the announcement of Gov. Gray Davis’ revised budget, the superintendent of the Santa-Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) told the school board at its last meeting it leaves the district “in basically the same position as it was before the revise.” Meaning, the district is still facing $13 million in cuts for the 2003-04 fiscal year.

To help stem the loss of programs, teachers and classified positions because of the budget gap, more than 100 volunteers have been working overtime to make sure the parents of the 2,352 students in Malibu public schools go to the polls Tuesday and vote yes for Measure S, the parcel tax proposed by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

Campaign for Measure S organizers and volunteers are counseling voters that the passage of the measure will provide $6.2 million a year over the next six years through a special tax of up to $225 per year on each parcel of land in the district. Property owners over the age of 65 can apply for an exemption to the tax. It is funding that proponents say will be needed in a fiscal climate where state revenues are down 11.1 percent and federal revenues were down 6.6 percent in the 2002/2003 Santa Monica-Malibu school district budget.

Collective nail biting has ensued in the campaign as supporters worry over voter turnout for the single item special election in the wake of the failure of Measure EE in November, with 61 percent of the 67 percent needed for passage. Measure EE was a special tax limited to $300 per parcel per year for 12 years with an annual adjustment based on the consumer price index (CPI).

“In the Measure S campaign we are in a much more desperate situation,” said Kathy Wisnicki, Malibu campaign co-chair for Measure S.

Wisnicki said educating parents on the realities of the highly publicized $13 million school district budget shortfall and the consequences of budget cuts has been the top priority in the seven months since the failure of Measure EE. Phone lines have been busy in Malibu as volunteers call each parent of each Malibu public school student to make sure they are registered to vote and that they will be going to the polls or voting absentee on June 3.

“If Measure S does not pass, we will not be able to maintain the quality of education that we have been able to accomplish despite the fact that California is among the lowest in per pupil spending in the states,” Wisnicki said.

But critics say throwing money at the problem doesn’t fix it, and they view the measure as unfair as large business and commercial property owners will pay the same tax rate as small residential homeowners.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is not alone on June 3. Manhattan Beach and Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District are both proposing special taxes Tuesday in a similar effort to boost revenues from local sources.

Deborah Griffin Percival, parent of a Webster Elementary School student, said she assumed all the districts in the state are in the same position as Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. As a volunteer in the drive to get parents to the polls Percival said she and other volunteers are working to make parents aware that budget shortfalls are a result of a reduction of funds and not a mismanagement of funds.

“Parents need to understand the financial need is real and that the consequences are fairly drastic,” Percival said. “Typically, I’m not politically oriented, but in this case it calls for everyone who supports public schools to become politically active.”