A proposal for a parcel tax that could cost between $450 and $550 annually and last for a period of seven years will be drawn up by the La Cañada school board, which this week completed a series of public discussions on the topic.
The current parcel tax of $150 brings nearly $900,000 to the district each year; by comparison, a tax rate of $450 would bring a total $2.7 million annually.
At its regular Tuesday-night meeting, the board heard final comments from a small audience of residents about different aspects of the proposed tax.
“We wanted the community to know we were having this meeting so people could give us feedback,” said board member Susan Boyd, who sits on the parcel tax subcommittee with fellow board member Andrew Blumenfeld.
Upon hearing a few comments for and against higher taxation, and one heartfelt plea for a senior exemption, the board decided to push forward with plans to seek a higher amount.
The district's parcel tax subcommittee will present a resolution in October outlining the specifics of what will go on a mail-in ballot, including the final dollar figure and time period, as well as an exemption for residents 65 and over.
To put the issue before voters in the spring, La Cañada Unified must declare what amount it will seek by December. Meeting that deadline is of particular interest, since the current tax expires in June. If voters should fail to pass a new tax this spring, the district could still attempt a second 2014 campaign in order to avoid a discontinuation of funding the following school year.
The board's decision to seek an amount at least triple the current rate comes after several talks on the district's financial needs in the wake of years of budgetary shortfall and California's new school funding formula, which would leave La Cañada one of the least funded school districts in the state. This year, LCUSD is operating with an $800,000 deficit, according to financial reports.
La Cañada residents currently pay 50 cents a day for the parcel tax. Boyd said even if that amount is tripled, to $1.50 a day, it would still be a fair deal for the top-notch education the district provides its students.
“If you compare our parcel tax to every other high-performing district in this area … we are so much lower,” she said.
Although most board members agree an increase would allow LCUSD to keep important programs and staff positions intact, board member Joel Peterson has expressed concern that residents could balk at a higher amount and threaten passage of a new tax altogether.
He suggested the district instead seek a continuation of the $150 amount, and if that passed with broad support, request a higher amount in a second election.
“I'm concerned that if we want this other way — getting defeated first and then coming back for a second bite of the apple — people may be less receptive,” he said.
Peterson's alternative was heard but not carried further.
The evening's meeting followed a closed session in which board members discussed a letter from the district's legal counsel on whether a student counseling and college consulting business Peterson owns, Student Planning Services, presents a potential conflict of interest with his tenure on the board. Peterson is up for reelection this November, one of eight candidates vying for three open seats. Boyd and Board President Scott Tracy will end their terms this fall.
Tracy told Tuesday night's audience the board decided to make the letter available to the public.
“It's our objective and intention to maintain the highest of standards and make sure decisions are made in the interest of the district, the students and the community,” he said.
Releasing the letter was part of a districtwide effort to maintain a level of transparency with the public, Scott announced.
In keeping with that effort, the board also decided to seek further legal counsel on whether Peterson's potential for conflict could possibly affect the validation of future votes regarding the parcel tax.
Blumenfeld requested counsel, suggesting Peterson recuse himself from any votes on the matter in the coming months. Board Vice President Ellen Multari agreed.
“I think it's in the best interest of the board and the individual,” she said.
-- Sara Cardine, email@example.com