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Burbank Unified contracts with same parcel-tax polling firm, hoping for different result

Burbank Unified School District President Roberta Reynolds calls the meeting into session at Walt Di
Burbank Unified board president Roberta Reynolds and the rest of the board are forgoing their salaries to help pay for polling for a potentially new parcel tax.
(Tim Berger / Burbank Leader)

On the ides of March last year, the Burbank Unified School District took its first step toward placing a proposed parcel tax on the November 2018 ballot by contracting with the research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, known as FM3, to conduct a poll.

The Los Angeles-based group provided the district a strikingly accurate omen, predicting not enough voters would support a 10-cents-per-square-foot annual parcel tax, later known as Measure QS, which ultimately failed at the polls.

Impressed by last year’s information, the school board voted on Thursday to rehire the same firm to conduct another round of polling as school officials again consider putting a parcel tax on ballots in either the March or November elections next year.

“FM3 did our polling for the last parcel tax campaign. Their data and results were pretty spot on,” Burbank Unified Supt. Matt Hill said.

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The firm predicted last year that 65% of Burbank voters either leaned toward or would probably or definitely vote “yes” for a parcel tax, while 29% were in the “no” camp, and 6% were “undecided.”

In the final count, 25,413 Burbank voters, or 64.33%, supported the proposed tax, which fell short of the 66.7% or two-thirds of voters required for passage, according to Proposition 13. The proposed tax, which would have generated roughly $9 million for the district annually, fell 938 votes shy of passing.

That failure has led to the proposed layoffs of three employees, elimination of several vacant positions and cutbacks across several programs as the district deals with a $3.5-million structural deficit at the end of the current school year.

In light of the cutbacks, board members decided to forfeit their salaries for the year and canceled a conference visit in order to pay a $39,000 fee to FM3 for the polling, which comes in slightly higher than its $35,000 cost last year.

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“This poll is, as [board member Charlene] Tabet said, absolutely necessary,” board president Roberta Reynolds said. “We have to get this done, and we were elected to provide the best possible direction for this district. And we can’t do that without proper funding.”

Prior to the vote on Thursday, FM3 sent a letter to Hill on March 14 stating its interest in conducting another survey, while laying out its credentials, such as helping school districts in Arcadia and Manhattan Beach pass parcel taxes in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

FM3 officials have proposed conducting 15-to-20 minute surveys via landlines, cellphones and the internet in Armenian, English and Spanish to 600 to 800 registered voters in the city who are likely to participate in the 2020 elections.

A 15-minute survey will likely consist of 40 to 55 questions, while the 20-minute variety allows for 55 to 70 questions.

FM3 is estimating that results from 600 residents would have a margin of error of 4 percentage points, while 800 voters would narrow that to 3.5 percentage points.

The methodology is nearly identical to services provided by FM3 last year.

If there is a difference this year, perhaps it’s the early interest from some district parents about a proposed parcel tax.

Of the 24 public-comment speakers at the meeting on Thursday, 10 spoke about the need for a parcel tax, while some implored the district to not change previous specifications in basing the tax on the size of a parcel rather than a flat fee.

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“An education parcel tax is an increasingly vital, physical tool that Burbank needs,” resident Paula Trubisky said. “As you consider the formula for generating that tax revenue, I urge you to stay with the formula you presented to the voters last November.”

Survey results are expected in about a month, according to the proposal from FM3.

andrew.campa@latimes.com

Twitter @campadresports


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