School board votes to hold parcel tax election


Special to The Malibu Times

There will be a mail-in election this spring for a parcel tax to support the financially stressed Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. The tax amount voters will be asked to support or reject will be decided next month.

The Board of Education on Thursday voted unanimously to hold an election. At a special meeting on Feb. 1, it will decide on ballot language, including the dollar amount for the proposed tax. The district’s tax feasibility committee recommended the tax be for no more than $225 per parcel.

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 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.

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.

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. 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 this thought, with Board member Ralph Mechur saying the chance of victory in a June election would be “slim.”

The mail-in election will cost an estimated $360,000, according to the county. An election on the Primary ballot would cost $160,000. A stand-alone election in May done 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 that because there is a desire to have the money in time for 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.

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.