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Group Forms to Oppose School District Tax  

By JonathanFriedman
Lookout Staff

March 1, 2010 -- As he has done for every School District (SMMUSD) and Santa Monica College funding measure proposed in the past decade, Mathew Millen is putting together an opposition group.

Millen says this year’s proposal for a $198-per-parcel tax is regressive and that the money the District needs to cover its deficit should come from the City.

“This parcel tax is really a tax that lets the Santa Monica business elite get off cheap,” Millen said. “The Water Gardens and the Loews Hotel are paying the same amount as a small homeowner.”

Parcel tax advocates say a proposal to tax larger facilities at a higher amount presents legal issues the District does not have the time and money to fight.

Most school district tax measures throughout California are for a uniform per-parcel amount. There have been some exceptions. The Albany Unified School District in November got a tax passed that charges the same amount for all residences, but places a per-square-foot cost on nonresidential properties.

The Albany Unified measure has not been legally challenged. However, a similar measure approved in the Alameda Unified School District in 2008 is in litigation. A settlement is pending before that Board of Education, and that district is looking to present a modified measure to the voters in June.

“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 met from August to January to study a parcel tax proposal.

Millen said that is not a good reason to put what he considers to be an unfair tax on the ballot.


“Why don’t they litigate it?” Millen asked. “They don’t want to be fair because they’re afraid of litigation?”

Millen also believes the City of Santa Monica does not do enough to support the District, which receives $6 million a year from the City. Millen says the City should give “whatever the school district needs to make up its deficit.”

Millen blames the lack of additional funding from the City on Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), which backs a majority of the City Council. Millen said SMRR has a greater interest in funding social programs than schools.

“They’re so entrenched that they think they can do whatever they want.” Millen said. “They don’t put education first. They’re spending millions of dollars on other things that aren’t critical or essential to Santa Monica residents versus education.”

The SMMUSD is operating on a deficit this year, with money from its reserve fund bridging the gap between revenue and expenditures.

The District faces a $12 million to $14 million deficit for next fiscal year because, among other reasons, its biggest financial contributor, the state government, will be offering fewer dollars.

Approximately $8.7 million in cuts have been proposed to overcome the shortfall. If approved, the parcel tax measure would generate approximately $5.7 million for the District.

The election will be done entirely through the mail. Ballots will be sent out on April 26 and must be returned by May 25. The tax needs support from at least two-thirds of the voters to pass.


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