Election season was ushered in by four votes from the Burbank Unified school board on Thursday as school officials pushed aside political scarring from a close electoral defeat last November by unanimously voting 4-0 during a regular meeting to place a proposed parcel tax, the second to go before local voters in 17 months, on the March 2020 primary ballot.
Board president Roberta Reynolds, clerk Steve Frintner and members Steve Ferguson and Charlene Tabet voted in favor of a resolution calling for a tax, while vice president Armond Aghakhanian was on vacation.
“What do our kids, what do our students get out of this?” Frintner asked rhetorically. “[They get] a better education, a better chance at life.”
District officials said they think the unnamed parcel tax will succeed where Burbank Unified’s previous parcel-tax attempt — Measure QS — failed to receive 66.7% of “yes” votes.
Last year, Measure QS fell short of passing by 938 votes.
Burbank Unified’s new proposed parcel tax contains several elements of Measure QS, highlighted by a 10-cents-per-square-foot fee on all types of property expected to generate approximately $9.1 million annually for the district.
That tax would cost the average Burbank homeowner, with a house roughly 1,700 square feet, $170 per year.
Senior citizens 65 years old or older and persons with disabilities receiving supplemental-security income can apply for exemptions, while an independent oversight committee would be established to monitor funding, if the measure passes.
One significant change between the new parcel tax and Measure QS is the inclusion of a sunset clause. While some citizens took umbrage with Measure QS because it did not contain an expiration date, district staff included a 12-year clause this time around.
While the vote on Thursday was expected, the board, pushed by Ferguson and backed by several of the 18 public speakers, overrode a district staff recommendation, championed by Supt. Matt Hill, to place a $25,000 cap on the fee per parcel.
“When it comes to the cap specifically, I know who I work for,” said Ferguson, who added the ceiling gave large businesses an advantage rather than small entities. “So, to the members of the public who came out and illustrated a case, I agree.”
The cap was initially proposed as an attempted compromise between the board, staff and the Burbank Chamber of Commerce.
Removal of the cap jacks up annual fees for large businesses, such as the Burbank Town Center, which would pay an additional $100,000 per year, Hill said.
The chamber withheld its endorsement last election cycle, but offered its backing, along with the funding of a “Yes” campaign, if the board raised its fee to 15 cents per square foot, placed a $3,000 cap and added a 12-year sunset clause.
The elimination of the cap raises the district’s expected revenue from $8.4 million to $9.1 million annually.
The parcel tax is a necessity, Hill said, as Burbank Unified closed a $3.5-million deficit in June by eliminating district staff, terminating vacant positions, freezing other open spots and eliminating thousands of dollars in class aid and materials.
“Last time we were not as direct about if the measure did not pass, and this time, we want to be very specific about that,” Hill said.
Hill added, “If this does not pass, we’re looking at cuts between $1 million and $3 million every single year.”