School districts balk at proposed county assessment for ground water run-off program

A Los Angeles County proposal to for the first time assess school districts alongside other property owners for an environmental clean up program has local education officials bristling.

County public works officials in recent weeks have been pushing an initiative that would pay for improving local groundwater sources and prevent toxic runoff from reaching the ocean through an ongoing parcel fee on all property owners, including school districts.

If the county Board of Supervisors agrees to put it on the ballot, and it’s approved by more than 50% of voters, the impact would be more than economic for school districts already grappling with razor thin budgets and likely teacher layoffs. Officials fear it would also set a precedent, as school districts have historically been exempted from assessor agency fees.

That combo has prompted round after round of negative reaction among local school districts to the county proposal.

Glendale Unified — which is expected to issue pink slips to teachers in the coming months — will oppose the county proposal, Supt. Dick Sheehan said.

The district would be charged $5,000 annually, according to the county, but that amount differs greatly from the $200,000 annual assessment school officials were initially told.

“The math doesn’t work,” Sheehan said. “That’s part of our concern — that they’re rushing into this.”

Districts would be assessed according to a formula that takes into account how much land they own and how much of it contributes to run-off, which means the range could be from the tens of thousands to seven-figures, such as the $4 million annual assessment expected for Los Angeles Unified.

“We as a flood control district are certainly sympathetic to the budget issues that are faced by the school districts,” said Kerjon Lee, a spokesman for Los Angeles County public works. But, he added, “we were instructed by the Board of Supervisors to investigate how the county and city could develop longtime and sustainable revenue for cleaning up.”

At a special meeting in December, the Burbank Unified school board voted to oppose the measure.

Burbank school board President Larry Applebaum called the initiative “a laudable plan,” but was concerned over fees charged to schools.

The district would be charged $28,000 per year under the county proposal.

“I think the overarching issue is whether we set that precedent or not,” Applebaum said, citing the potential “for the next assessor that wants to use the district’s property as a source of revenue.”

In the end, he added, “that has nothing to do with clean beaches and clean water.”

Burbank Unified Supt. Jan Britz is against the fee when the district could face more layoffs after letting go of staff and taking furlough days.

“We’re deficit spending just to do our normal routines,” Britz said.

The La Cañada Unified School District, which could be charged roughly $25,000 annually, officially opposed the measure this week citing the more than $10.8 million in state funding cuts suffered since 2007.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to take up the measure at its meeting on Jan. 15.

-- Kelly Corrigan, Times Community News

Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan


Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World