Canoga Park High School teacher, Brian York, gathers up UTLA picket signs after the morning picket before heading to downtown Los Angeles for a rally at Grand Park on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. He was a teacher during the nine day strike in 1989. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
By ARIELLA PLACHTA | aplachta [at] scng.com | Los Angeles Daily News
PUBLISHED: February 25, 2019 at 8:33 pm | UPDATED: February 26, 2019 at 5:37 pm
The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education began discussions Tuesday morning to increase district revenue via a possible parcel tax, one month after the district reached an expensive contract agreement with striking public school teachers.
Hoping to harness popular support for public schools in the strike’s aftermath, district policy professionals proposed that the school board submit a parcel tax measure for local special election ballots as early as June 4th or Nov. 5th of this year.
In a presentation to the school board, LAUSD Senior Executive Director of Finance and Policy Pedro Salcido presented two options for the new education tax – one flat tax per parcel and the other based on square footage of each parcel.
He suggested the latter is a more progressive option, placing more of the tax burden on wealthier district residents. In order to pass, the tax would require a two-thirds majority vote and could generate as much as $500 million per year for LAUSD, according to district estimates.
The exploration of a parcel tax is the district’s first step in its push for new revenue sources that will pay for the 2021-22 labor contract reached with UTLA-represented teachers who walked off the job between Jan. 14 to 22 of this year.
Yet LAUSD’s looming fiscal issues did not start and end with the recent strike. Last June the board narrowly failed to pass a parcel tax measure in search of revenue to stave off a multi-million dollar shortfall the district anticipates once it had spent reserves.
For additional revenue streams, Beutner and UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl have discussed pushing for increased state funding and amendments to “property tax loopholes” from Proposition 13.
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At a meeting Tuesday morning, school board members appeared to support the move and prefer the option generating the most revenue. Board president Monica Garcia, who recently entered the race to replace LA City Councilman Jose Huizar, said she’d like to take the vote that day.
“I love the L.A. solution because while Sacramento may do something and we need a multi-pronged approach … I am inspired and encouraged and excited,” Garcia said.
Pollster Adam Sonenshein of FM3 research firm presented survey data for LAUSD that showed robust popularity for the tax.
According to the survey, taken at a sample size of 700 with an estimated 3.7 percentage point margin of error, sixty-six percent of voters would vote for a $537 flat parcel tax and 77 percent of respondents would support the $.16-per-square-foot tax option.
Sonenshein suggested placing the tax on a ballot sooner than later. “This is a snapshot of today,” he said. “The longer we wait, memories start to fade.”
Other members of the school board expressed concerned for lack of specificity in determining where exactly this new potential stream of revenue will be applied. Salcido’s presentation cited class size, nursing and counseling services and retaining high-quality teachers as key targets of the new revenue source.
“We need to acknowledge,” added board member Dr. George McKenna, the role of the UTLA-led strike in bolstering public attention to funding public schools in Los Angeles. “Without that move, we would still be here discussing why we can’t do something.”
California school districts began passing local parcel taxes in the 1980s and 90s as a creative source of discretionary tax revenue for K-12 education following the passage of Proposition 13.
Prop 13, passed by California voters in 1978, was a state constitutional amendment to reduce property tax rates by more than 50 percent. One effect was the decrease in local government revenue for public services from road repair to K-12 education.
“It is time for Los Angeles Unified to pursue a local measure to increase funding for schools,” said superintendent Beutner in a statement.
He said the school board would vote on the possible ballot measure later in the week, possibly Thursday.
“A revenue measure, if approved by voters in June could provide additional funding for schools during the upcoming school year,” Beutner said. “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.”