School board votes to hold parcel tax election Tax could be as high as $225 per parcel.


The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education last Thursday voted unanimously to hold a mail-in election this spring for a parcel tax to support the financially stressed school district. The tax amount voters will be asked to support or reject will be decided next month.

The board will decide at a special meeting Feb. 1 on ballot language, including the dollar amount for the proposed tax. The district’s tax feasibility committee recommended a tax no more than $225 per parcel. The committee has also recommended a five-year lifespan for the tax and that those 65 and older be given an option to opt out of paying.

The committee will meet on Jan. 28 to decide on its recommendation for ballot language. The Board of Education will meet two days later in a Saturday workshop to discuss the recommendation. At that workshop, SMMUSD staff will present the board with information on how different tax amounts would affect the district’s financial status.

A $225 tax would generate an estimated $6.6 million for the district, according to the tax feasibility committee. The district, which is operating under a deficit, needs to cut $8.7 million from its budget for the next school year. This means that even the passage of a tax at the high amount would not protect all SMMUSD programs and resources. This issue concerns board member Oscar de la Torre

“In the past when we had parcel taxes, the promise was that we were going to maintain and sustain the quality of our programs and services,” de la Torre said at Thursday’s meeting.

Neil Carrey, who heads the tax feasibility committee, said that is why it is important for the district staff to inform the board what could be saved and what would still need to be slashed based on various tax amount scenarios. This will allow the board to carefully select a tax amount that would generate enough revenue to make sure cuts are as far removed from the classroom as possible, but that the tax amount is low enough to get enough votes for passage.

A mail-in election would function like absentee balloting does in regular elections. Ballots will be mailed to registered voters, and they will be asked to return them by May 25. Committee member Rochelle Fanali told board members a mail-in election would be a better option because more people are likely to vote. Carrey said it is important to have the election be stand-alone rather than be part of the June Primary Election, where he said it could be lost among many issues. The board members agreed, with Ralph Mechur saying the chance of victory in a June election would be “slim.”

The mail-in election would cost an estimated $360,000, according to the county. Placing the parcel tax on the Primary Ballot would cost $160,000. A stand-alone election in May, conducted with traditional polls, would cost $950,000. Waiting until the November General Election would reduce the cost further to $107,000, but there was no support for doing so because the money is needed by the beginning of the next fiscal year on July 1.

Mechur said paying the extra money for a stand-alone mail election in the spring would be worth it.

“The truth is, not passing this is going to be devastating to the district and the community, in terms of public safety, in terms of property values, in terms of the future of our children,” Mechur said.

Awareness on dire budget issues needed

Another issue raised during the meeting was that there is a lack of knowledge by many in the community about the district’s budget issues. According to the surveys and focus groups conducted by the tax feasibility committee, many people are unaware that the district gets most of its revenue from the state, and that Sacramento’s budget crisis trickles down to the SMMUSD.

Also, many are unaware of what more district cuts could mean.

Board member Maria Leon-Vazquez said this is a sign that board members and others interested in getting the measure passed will have to work hard to get the word out.

“We need to, as board members, go out there and start hitting the pavement, and going to meetings and fielding questions,” she said.

The tax measure will require approval from two-thirds of the voters for approval. District voters approved a parcel tax in 2008 for $346 per parcel. That tax has no expiration.