In its effort to create a special assessment district, the Irvine Unified School District is pushing the wrong tax, but for all the right reasons. Property owners who understand the true issues behind this tax should vote "yes" on the assessment. Ballots will be mailed within a week and are due back by May 6. They will be counted at the following board meeting.
The prestigious school district barely patched its budgets together for the last several years, using last-minute donations in place of gum and baling wire. Irvine is in a perpetual scramble for money, in part because of its enriched offerings in music, science and other subjects. But the district also has been the victim of an outmoded funding scheme in Sacramento that pays less per Irvine student than the state average.
Twice in the last few years, measures to raise a tax for the schools have fallen far short of the required two-thirds majority. Neighboring districts have passed school construction bonds, which require only 55% of the vote to pass. Orange County voters see and understand the need to fix a run-down school. But Irvine doesn't need the money for building and fixing campuses. It wants to fund the learning going on inside the buildings.
School leaders have hit on a troubling, if clever, solution. They propose the creation of an assessment district that taxes property owners for their recreational use of school property, such as joggers who log miles on the high school tracks. By using that money to maintain fields, stadium lights and so forth, the district would free up money for educational programs.
A district-commissioned study supposedly shows that people besides school-age children use its recreational facilities. The study doesn't poll residents about their visits to school facilities, or count the number of people using them, although a casual swing by most campuses will show the fields full almost any evening.
The study instead employs complicated formulas and an extraordinary amount of jargon to determine potential use measured in something called "equivalent benefit units."
The study also assumes that schools are available for the public's convenience once the school day ends, ignoring after-school use by the football team, the track team and other extracurricular programs.
Hidden behind this arcane accounting, though, is a solid argument for supporting Irvine's schools. The assessment will cost the average homeowner about four bucks a month, an investment returned many times over in the form of well-educated children.
And if that isn't enough, perhaps it's time to drop by the office of a nearby real estate agent, who is sure to keep a thick file of information on the local schools to sell nearby properties. That's how good a selling point the Irvine schools are. The city and its residents have a stake in keeping them that way.