La Cañada Unified researches parcel tax

The La Cañada Unified School District has hired an expert to survey voter receptiveness to a parcel tax measure that may be placed on the ballot next year.

City residents last improved a parcel tax for schools in 2009, when Measure LC — which levied a $150 annual tax on real estate parcels for five years — received approval from 74% of voters.

On Tuesday the La Cañada Unified board approved a $6,500-per-month contract with Charles Heath, a principal with the San Francisco-based TBWB Strategies. The consulting firm also worked on the 2009 measure and has developed tax strategies with local government agencies throughout California.

Heath’s firm was initially hired last year, but Supt. Wendy Sinnette said the district rescinded the contract because the “timing wasn’t optimal” to go forward.

Heath’s firm will work with a pollster to assess the feasibility of a parcel tax measure. TBWB will analyze past election results and competing tax proposals, and will recommend programs and services to be funded by the tax as well as the best date for a measure to appear on the ballot.

“We’ve really got to make sure he’s got the timeline right,” said board member Susan Boyd, who previously served on the school board’s parcel tax subcommittee.

The district is bracing for the possible defeat of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30 on Nov. 6. If the measure, which would hike sales and other taxes temporarily to fund schools and service the state’s deficit, doesn’t pass, La Cañada Unified would lose about $1.8 million this year and more than $7 million over four years.

But passage of Proposition 30 wouldn’t mean that the school district necessarily would pass on the parcel tax. Several factors have strained district finances.

“I believe the board and district would still pursue a parcel tax, even if Proposition 30 passes,” Sinnette wrote in an email. “Our budget scenario with the passage of Prop. 30 still demonstrates significant deficit spending in the current and out-years.”

Sinnette added that the district’s dependence on support from the private La Cañada Educational Foundation and community expectations for what is ranked as the second-best district in California “indicate that a parcel tax is critical for the district's long-term fiscal stability.”

Board members anticipate TBWB will begin a voter opinion survey after Thanksgiving with completion before winter break, which begins on Dec. 24.

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