La Canada Schools Await Funding Vote

Times Staff Writer

On Tuesday, voters in the La Canada Unified School District will decide on a property tax assessment that school officials say is needed to prevent severe cutbacks in the district's education program.

Measure A would add an annual $150 assessment for five years to each land parcel in the district's boundaries.

About 7,000 parcels would be included in the proposed assessment. District officials estimate that the tax would generate between $900,000 and $1 million annually for the school district, which has an enrollment of about 3,200.

The district has been beset by declining enrollment and a corresponding decrease in state funding.

Brochures Mailed Out

In the final days before the special election, district officials said they are hoping that more than 6,000 brochures mailed out this week by a pro-tax committee of volunteers will answer any lingering questions voters may have about the proposed parcel tax.

The brochures, in part, are an attempt to overcome an apparent voter disposition against new or increased taxes based on real property ownership. In November, 52% of La Canada Flintrdge residents supported Proposition 36, the ill-fated Howard Jarvis-sponsored initiative that would have restricted the power of local governmental agencies to raise taxes and fees.

The tax measure must be approved by a two-thirds majority of those voting. It is the only issue in the special election, which is expected to cost the school district $13,500.

Although there is no organized campaign to oppose the proposed tax, residents have expressed opposition to any additional property tax.

In response to complaints by some property owners, small undeveloped "postage stamp" parcels, such as strips of land that are near power lines or access roads, would be excluded from taxation, district officials have said. The complaining property owners were concerned about the fairness of being taxed on parcels whose assessed values are not much more than the proposed tax.

Citizens Committee

School board members called for the special election two days after the November general election. Since then a 15-member citizens committee has spearheaded the campaign for its approval. The committee has met with community groups and organizations to explain the tax measure, has placed ads in a local newspaper and, over the past two weeks, has conducted a house-by-house canvassing of voters with the help of 300 volunteers.

Campaign costs have been covered by $5,000 in private donations made to the committee, said La Canada Flintridge resident Ed White, the Yes on A committee treasurer. White said that printing and other services donated by residents helped keep the campaign budget within the $5,000 range.

School board members said they are optimistic that voters will support the tax measure, but they worry about misconceptions some voters still have.

"Our biggest concern at this point is what people understand or don't understand," said Carole Siegler, the school board member who guided the campaign by the residents' committee. "There seems to be some misunderstanding about how long (the tax) will go. They don't seem to understand that there is a limit of $150 and a limit of five years. . . . It just can't go any longer than that without there being another election."

Lottery Issue

In addition to uncertainty about the limitations of the proposed tax, "the issue of the lottery keeps coming up," Siegler said, referring to funds that are expected to be generated for education once the state lottery begins.

Siegler called the lottery "a real iffy thing." The school district "can't wait for two or three years to see how much money is coming" from the lottery, she said. "We need the money now."

She said the district expects a larger voter turnout than the usual 20% of the 12,000 eligible voters. "I'm sure it will be more than that since it's a dollar issue," Siegler said.

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