Beverly Hills Seeks Alternatives in Funding Crunch : Layoffs Loom as School Tax Fails

Times Staff Writer

The Beverly Hills Board of Education said it will consider laying off up to 40 teachers and other district workers next week because a $2.5-million property tax initiative failed to win the necessary two-thirds of the vote.

The final count in Tuesday's election showed that 2,962 of the city's residents voted in favor of Proposition K and 2,032 voted against it. The measure drew support from only 59.3% of the slightly more than 5,000 ballots cast. The voter turnout was 25.6%. Some ballots were damaged and were not counted.

Mark Egerman, president of the Beverly Hills Unified School District Board of Education, said that the board probably will vote next week to send layoff notices to as many as 40 teachers and other district employees.

He said that layoffs and other budget cuts must be considered to reduce the likelihood of a deficit in the district's $27-million budget next year. The district is required to issue the layoff notices in March.

"We will make every effort to cut in areas that do not involve layoffs," he said.

Major cuts may be avoided if the City Council agrees to provide additional money to the schools. The city has already agreed to pay the district $4 million a year through a joint-powers agreement involving rental of school libraries, playgrounds and other facilities.

'Concerned About Our Schools'

Mayor Charlotte Spadaro, a reluctant supporter of the tax initiative, said that even though the tax lost, the close vote was "a statement that the people of Beverly Hills are concerned about our schools, even if this is not the tax they would prefer."

She said that the parcel tax failed because many residents considered it unfair since it would have levied the same $270 fee on a condominium as on a mansion.

The defeat of the initiative will force the council to take another look at ways of providing additional revenues of the schools, she added. "I think we will find ways of taking care of whatever their needs are."

The measure was defeated despite the overwhelming support of the Board of Education, the City Council and all of the city's major organizations. Supporters said the tax fell victim to a "silent 'no' vote."

Judie Fenton, co-chairwoman of the Yes on K Committee, said that her group received several anonymous letters denouncing the proposition that would have placed a flat fee of $270 a year for five years on the more than 9,000 parcels of property in the city.

"We knew there were a lot of negative feelings out there when we began receiving a number of letters against the proposition," she said. "One letter simply stated: '(Howard) Jarvis is King.' "

The Yes on K Committee spent $40,000 in its unsuccessful campaign. The only organized opposition came from the Committee to Save Beverly Hills from Itself, a small group which kept secret the identities of its 200 members.

"We were David fighting Goliath," said Kurt Haber, spokesman for the opposition. "They kept saying that everybody was for it, but when we would talk to people, we knew there were a lot of people against it."

Haber's group accused the district of wasteful spending and argued that the tax would not cure its financial troubles.

Anneli Roth, the co-chairwoman of the Yes on K Committee, said that defeat of the measure had less to do with opposition than with the fact that voters with school-age children make up a small percentage of the city's population.

"They did not want to come out publicly against the initiative, but many voters did not feel they had a vested interest in it," she said. "They did not see the schools as important."

Roth said that her group did win a victory in that more than half of those voting approved the measure.

"It's not enough for passage, but it does send a clear message that the city is committed to the schools," she said. "Fifty-nine percent is nothing to be ashamed of."

Roth also said that campaign united more diverse groups in the city than any other election campaign in recent times.

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