La Cañada Unified tables parcel tax

With state income taxes rising and the federal government's “fiscal cliff” looming, La Cañada school officials have agreed not to place a parcel tax before La Cañada Flintridge voters next year.

La Cañadans currently pay $150 per parcel to support the La Cañada Unified School District, though that levy expires in June 2014. School officials had considered conducting a new parcel tax election next spring.

But on Nov. 14, a week after state voters passed Proposition 30, Supt. Wendy Sinnette met with about 20 members of the district's budget advisory committee. The sentiment was unanimous: Now is not a good time to ask to extend or increase the tax.

“There's just a lot of uncertainty,” school board President Scott Tracy said. “One parent said, ‘I'm going to be socked with tens of thousands in additional taxes and none of it is going to our schools.'”

Proposition 30, sponsored by Gov. Jerry Brown, temporarily raises income taxes on Californians who earn more than $250,000 a year and also raises sales taxes in order to stop further cuts to public schools and to ease the state's multibillion-dollar deficit.

With household median incomes in La Cañada Flintridge among the highest in the state, nearly $137,000 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, many residents expect to be hard hit by new state taxes.

The majority of La Cañada voters did not support the governor's proposition.

Separately, if Congress and President Obama can't agree to a new federal tax package by Jan. 1, Bush-era cuts to capital gains and investment income taxes will rise.

Over the past month, Sinnette began discussions with outside consultants to survey La Cañadans about a parcel tax measure after Thanksgiving.

Now the plan is to reach out to residents during 2013, Tracy said.

The district may prepare for a measure in 2014.

Before the Nov. 14 meeting, board member Andrew Blumenfeld was hopeful that a parcel tax could still be pursued in the coming months. He said it is “frustrating” that residents have been put in such a tight spot that the district must wait.

Proposition 30 halts automatic cuts of $455 per student per year, which amounts to about $1.8 million for the district. But because of cuts to state support over the last five years, the district faces a roughly $500,000 shortfall for 2012-13 and additional shortages over the next several years.

To get through lean times, the district will dip into its reserve funds.

“If Proposition 30 had failed we would have used our reserves much more rapidly,” Blumenfeld said. “Even though it passed we still have a structural deficit, and it didn't give any new income. But we can use our reserves at a slower rate.”

Tracy noted that the La Cañada Educational Foundation has nearly doubled the $1.1-million annual pledge it has made to support the schools, but that the district can't depend on that level of generosity.

“We know we can't rely on that because of people's taxes coming up,” Tracy said. “Our community is disproportionally impacted. Our community bears the brunt of a lot of these problems.”

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