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Some Burbank residents, all school board members start new push for parcel tax

Some Burbank residents, all school board members start new push for parcel tax
Burbank Unified School District board member Steve Frintner called for a new proposed parcel tax during a special meeting on Tuesday. Frintner was joined by other board members and city residents in starting the effort. (Tim Berger / Burbank Leader)

They have neither a name, organization or fundraising campaign.

Yet a group of about 30 Burbank residents and Burbank Unified school board members committed to try to place a new proposed parcel tax before voters in 2020, only three months after the district’s last proposed parcel tax, known as Measure QS, was narrowly defeated.

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The agreement was reached during a discussion about Measure QS at a special school board meeting, facilitated by district Supt. Matt Hill, on Tuesday.

“It’s clear we need to start now, and it’s very clear we need it by 2020,” Hill said of a parcel tax.

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Hill added that board members could assist in gathering information about the need for a parcel tax and educating residents about it, but they could only vote on matters of “ballot language and timing.”

The meeting was the district’s first debriefing since Measure QS failed in November to receive the necessary two-third’s vote to pass.

The 10-cents-per-square-foot annual fee received 25,413 “yes” votes, or 64.33%, and 14,093 “no” votes, or 35.67%. The proposed measure fell short by 938 votes.

The loss cost the district a little more than $9 million annually and has led the board to consider layoffs and other cuts in the wake of a $3.5-million structural deficit.

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“We need a parcel tax to pass,” board member Steve Frintner said. “We’re going to run another one. There is no doubt about that, and we need buy-in.”

Armond Aghakhanian, board vice president, added, “We need to start tomorrow.”

Before developing a new parcel tax, however, there was still a matter of dissecting Measure QS and why it didn’t pass.

Residents pointed out several perceived flaws, including no sunset clause, the tax being based on square footage rather than a flat fee, a lack of adequate communication, low voter knowledge, a late start in campaigning and opposition from some residents.

Board member Charlene Tabet countered by saying the board utilized polling that didn’t indicate issues with the lack of a sunset clause or using square footage. She added that she didn’t think the measure failed because of a lack of effort.

“It can’t just be that we didn’t send enough postcards out,” Tabet said. “It can’t be that we didn’t knock on enough doors; it can’t be because we did all those things.”

However, some residents offered positive assessments about Measure QS.

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“We’re talking a lot about our loss, but we did get 64% of Burbank voters to [support the tax],” said Peggy Flynn, the district’s arts and career technical education coordinator.

Resident Colleen Elkins said she’d push for recruiting “neighborhood captains,” who would reach out to their neighbors and advocate for the next parcel tax.

Some board members pointed to little support from city officials, the chamber of commerce and local businesses.

“When the studios, who send [out] Mickey Mouse, and you name it, to sing and dance on all our campuses out of one mouth but then, in board rooms, vote against endorsement measures for QS, that’s a problem,” board member Steve Ferguson said.

Larry Applebaum, former board president and chief “No on QS” spokesman, said a new proposed parcel tax should address pensions. He noted that the district is projected to pay an additional $13.16 million in pension costs between the 2013-14 school year and the close of 2020-21.

“Until the pensions are funded, everything else is B.S. because the pensions are why you’re having a problem,” he said.

He added, “$13 million will go a long way to providing things for this district.”

Applebaum’s response drew the wrath of some board members.

“It’s the height of hypocrisy to sit here and pretend you have the one solution that works that none of the rest of us could possibly think of and to sit here after campaigning against funding for our schools and tell us how much you want help fund our schools,” Frintner said. “We need people who want to help our schools, school district and students.”

Tabet called for unity and action.

“If that means we start now because we didn’t start earlier enough, let’s do it,” she said. “If it means we didn’t collect enough money and didn’t hire a professional, then let’s get it done. If we had people that went against us, you need to stop that.

She added, “We’re either all in or we’re not going to make it.”

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