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LAUSD board sets June special election for parcel tax

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously Feb. 28 to place a parcel tax before voters on the June ballot in hopes of generating hundreds of millions of dollars for local schools.

The board’s move came on the heels of a teachers’ strike that ended with the district committing to the hiring of more educators and school staff, along with cutting class sizes. With Los Angeles County education officials already warning the district that its long-term financial picture was cloudy at best, the need for a new revenue source became a top priority.

“There is an inextricable relationship between schools and the community that surrounds it. The schools aren’t isolated from the community,” board member Richard Vladovic said in support of the tax. “What happens in the schools, what is the end game of the schools — children graduate and are successful community members.”

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, who last year played down the immediate need for a local education tax, now stands firmly behind the idea.

“It is time for Los Angeles Unified to pursue a local measure to increase funding for schools,” Beutner said in a statement this week. “A revenue measure, if approved by voters in June, could provide additional funding for schools during the upcoming school year. This will allow for the accelerated improvement in student learning, further reduction in class size and providing more support to students and educators in schools. It is time to build on the commitment the community has expressed and move forward together.”

With the teachers’ strike still fresh in voters’ minds, the board appeared anxious to move ahead quickly with a proposed tax, and chose the earlier June 4 ballot, although the board could have delayed until the Nov. 5 election. But the later vote would have also delayed the district from starting to receive the tax revenue from January 2020 to January 2021.

The measure approved by the board would impose a tax of 16 cents per square foot of building improvements on properties within the district. The parcel tax, which would remain in effect for 12 years, would raise an estimated $500 million a year. At the recommendation of staff, the board altered the effective time of the tax from 10 years, which had been discussed earlier in the week, to 12 years.

The board heard from some residents prior to its vote, most of whom supported the proposed tax. But Maria Salinas, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, asked the board to consider a per-parcel flat-rate tax instead of a square footage tax, because the square foot proposal was “inconsistent with [the chamber’s] principals in singling out business community and commercial enterprises.”

Board member Nick Melvoin later said “the vast majority of parcel taxes in this state, over 92 or 93 percent, have been a flat tax, so the fact that this board is taking on a square footage tax is progressive.”

Exemptions would be provided for parcels owned by people aged 65 or older and used as their primary residence. There would also be exemptions for people on disability or who receive Social Security benefits, depending on their annual income.

A parcel tax would need to be approved by two-thirds of voters. A poll recently commissioned by the district found that more than 80 percent of voters believe schools need increased funding.

In anticipation of the board’s discussion, the district held an event Feb. 27 dubbed “All in for Public Education” designed to rally support for the idea of a quality education for all children.

Beutner noted that while creating a new revenue source is critical for the district, operational changes will also have to be made “to reduce central bureaucracy.” He said the district must “use all funding more efficiently, increase the ability of schools leaders and educators to make decisions to suit the unique needs of their students, build on its efforts to help students most in need and increase engagement with the families and communities it serves.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who helped broker the new teachers’ union contract and end the strike, praised the board’s move.

“A free and excellent public education is the right of every child — and when thousands of Angelenos took to the streets in support of students and teachers last month, it was because we all agree on a fundamental truth: we have to give our children every possible resource to succeed in the classroom and take their knowledge into the world,” Garcetti said. “Our teachers and school district reached an historic agreement to improve learning in L.A., and I am grateful to the LAUSD board for giving Angelenos an extraordinary opportunity to bring it to life in a way that can transform our kids’ lives.”

From City News Service