School Panel Sees New Tax as Option in Beverly Hills

Times Staff Writer

The Beverly Hills Unified School District could raise $1.8 million to $3.7 million if voters approve a special tax on each parcel of land in the district, according to a report by a citizens' committee studying ways to balance the district budget.

The Board of Education received the report from the 25-member advisory panel at its Tuesday meeting. The committee suggested a tax of $200 to $400 on each of the city's 9,200 parcels as the "chief" option if budget problems force the district to consider laying off teachers and increasing class sizes.

A parcel tax must be approved by two-thirds of the voters in the district.

The committee, appointed by the school board in July, was asked to recommend ways the district could avoid a projected bankruptcy in 1987. The parcel tax proposal was one of 14 recommendations aimed at raising money and reducing expenses.

Board members said they would review the committee's proposals.

At the meeting, committee chairman Bernard Nebenzahl said the school board must begin planning for the possibility of a tax election soon, at least a year before district reserves reach a crisis level and "unnecessary cuts are made."

At the current rate of spending, the district is expected to run out of reserves by 1987, said John Scoggin, the assistant superintendent of business and finance. This year's $26.1-million budget will decrease the reserves--estimated to be as high as $7.5 million--by $1.8 million to $2.4 million.

Santa Monica Approved Tax

Beverly Hills is the second Westside district to consider a parcel tax. Last November, voters in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District approved a $58-a-parcel tax, expected to increase that district's revenue by $1.5 million.

"I have no feel on how it would carry on a ballot," board President Fred Stern said. "But the value of the houses in Beverly Hills is determined by the value of the schools. Schools are at least as important as the police and fire department and that puts the $400 into perspective."

Stern said he had not read the whole report, but he agreed with the "tone" of what he had read. "It's slow moving and judicial," he said.

Nebenzahl said that before residents accept a tax, the district must demonstrate that it has exhausted all other avenues of increasing its revenue, short of major cuts in the program.

"It is not our desire to eliminate teachers or others. It is not our desire to increase class size or adversely affect the education curriculum. It is not our desire to create or foster concern within the faculty or community about cutbacks," Nebenzahl said.

The district could have a difficult time convincing the public of its need to make substantial cuts.

Last July a city-sponsored report on school finances criticized the Beverly Hills district for "historically" understating its revenues. The City of Beverly Hills allocates the school district $1.2 million a year.

City officials contend that the miscalculations stem from the fact that they must project their income before they are certain of how much funding they will receive.

"The committee feels strongly that accurate information must be given the community about the district and this should be done regularly," Nebenzahl said. "The credibility of the board is essential to the community's understanding and acceptance of the district's fiscal condition. Crisis or no, without the public's confidence there is less ability to formulate and execute policy."

The report recommended that the district:

- Continue to use its reserves to maintain education programs and the low student-teacher ratio. Beverly Hills has one of the lowest student-teacher ratios in the state with an average of 21.6 students in kindergarten through fifth grade; 23.5 students in sixth through eighth grade and 27 students in ninth through twelfth grade.

- Make efforts to increase its revenues. If cuts are necessary, they should be made in non-classroom and non-teaching personnel areas.

- Consider reducing the staff through attrition. If replacements are necessary, they should be made by filling positions with lower-paid professionals.

- Reduce the district's contribution to mandated and government-funded programs such as drivers training, special classes for the gifted and special education. Other considerations include increasing fund-raising activities and corporate contributions, leasing the high school parking lot and making food services self-supporting.

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