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Panel to Be Formed : Schools of Las Virgenes May Ask for Parcel Tax

Times Staff Writer

Undaunted by a neighboring school district’s failure last week to win voter support for a special property tax, school officials in Westlake Village will launch their own tax campaign on Thursday.

Las Virgenes Unified School District trustees said they will form a study committee to gauge public support for a flat yearly “parcel tax” of $50 to $150 on each of the estimated 12,000 homes, lots and ranches in the 80-square-mile district west of the San Fernando Valley.

The committee will try to determine exactly how much money such a tax would raise, and will propose priorities for spending it. District officials indicated a referendum on the tax might be scheduled early next spring.

Confident of Support

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School officials said they are confident that Las Virgenes voters will support the tax, unlike Conejo Valley Unified School District voters, who rejected a parcel tax a week ago by a 3-1 margin. A two-thirds “yes” vote is required for such a tax measure to pass.

“I think it will depend on our ability to get the word out about the need,” said Richard Koppel, a Las Virgenes Board of Education member who is leading the investigation into the tax. “Once people know the financial situation the district is in, I think they would consider the $50 or $100 well spent.”

Koppel and other officials of the 7,600-pupil, 12-school district said its financial picture is bleak. The district now operates on a $24-million annual budget.

Once considered a wealthy school system because of the affluence of its residents, Las Virgenes district was hit hard during the 1970s by a court-ordered reorganization of school funding procedures. That caused school funding to be shifted from locally controlled property taxes to a state-run system designed to pump money into traditionally underprivileged school districts.

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Because of that, Las Virgenes’ per-pupil allocation went up only 43% between 1974 and 1983, a period during which the average allotment throughout the state was increased 76%.

13 Employees Laid Off

As a result, the Las Virgenes district has had to cut some programs and classroom aide positions, impose controversial fees on students to finance extracurricular activities such as drama and sports and ordered its first layoffs, with 13 non-teaching employees terminated, effective at the end of the month. The district also increasingly has turned to parents for donations.

A 3-year-old nonprofit Las Virgenes Education Foundation run by parents has raised about $250,000, most of it from voluntary family contributions. School parent-faculty clubs have donated another $100,000 a year in cash and materials in recent years, according to district records.

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The clubs’ cash donations have been used to buy specialized reading books and other supplemental teaching materials used by students such as Westlake Village fifth-grader Angela Martin, who is learning grammar with workbooks that can only be used once before being thrown away.

“If I was an adult and there was an election to pay for school books, I’d pay it,” Angela, 11, a student at White Oak Elementary School, said.

Las Virgenes officials said they are hopeful voters have a similar attitude.

Only five of the 18 school districts in California that have undertaken such parcel-tax efforts have been successful. Las Virgenes officials said Monday, however, that they will try to benefit from the losers’ mistakes.

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Las Virgenes officials speculated that, in neighboring Thousand Oaks, voters’ resistance to the $77 per-parcel tax, earmarked to raise $2.8 million a year for more teachers, may have been intensified by Conejo Valley school board members’ squabbling over the issue.

Koppel said his Las Virgenes school board will not call for a parcel-tax vote unless the 30-member committee decides there is broad-based support for it and voters realize “it won’t be for grandiose new programs, but to preserve what we have left.”


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