La Cañada Unified School District eyeing parcel tax

After postponing talks for several months, the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board is ready to again consider the possibility of putting another parcel tax before voters in 2014 and could conduct a survey to gauge public interest as early as May.

Board members on Tuesday discussed a timetable for a survey to gauge voter support. A decision on whether to officially move forward with the $20,000 survey is expected to be made at the next regular meeting on April 16.

A new parcel tax would help the district avoid the fiscal vacuum that would occur when Measure LC, the $150 parcel tax passed by voters in 2009, expires in June 2014. The $900,000 raised annually helps LCUSD limit class sizes, avoid layoffs and fund educational programs and support services for students.

“To avoid a yearlong lapse in parcel tax, we need to secure approval of a renewal for that date,” Sinnette told the school board.

Initial survey talks were postponed in November, when the Budget Advisory Committee recommended the district wait to see how the passage of Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 would affect funding. On Nov. 13, Sinnette announced that the voter-approved income and sales tax initiative would prevent further cuts but bring no new money to school districts.

In a letter addressed to the “LCUSD Community,” Sinnette projected that even with Proposition 30 funds, deficit spending would increase from $547,000 in the 2012/13 school year to $1.7 million in 2014/15, when the parcel tax expires.

“Because we were feeling the negative ripples in the community after Proposition 30 passed, there is a sense of urgency to at least perform the survey,” Sinnette said Tuesday.

Consultant Charles Heath, principal with the San Francisco-based TBWB Strategies, is currently researching the feasibility of a new parcel tax. Sinnette said Heath recommended LCUSD conduct a spring survey in advance of a possible mail-in ballot election in May 2014.

When the district surveyed support of Measure LC in 2009, questions tried to determine how much residents would be willing to pay. Board members on Tuesday expressed a desire for a more dynamic line of questioning in the next survey.

“Now, having our foot in the door and having a year to create messaging that's effective, it's important not just to survey what people are tolerant of, but more numbers we create,” said board member Andrew Blumenfeld. “Don't ask what they would pay, but craft a number we need and message around that.”

According to the district's Parcel Tax Oversight Committee, there were 5,910 taxable parcels within the district's boundaries in 2011-12.

Board member Susan Boyd, who serves on the board's Parcel Tax Subcommittee alongside Blumenfeld, recommended the district develop different funding goals and use those numbers to inform the survey. Boyd also asked the board to consider how a parcel tax might impact the fundraising efforts of the La Cañada Educational Foundation, which has raised $2.1 million annually for the past three years.

“How much people give to the Foundation is sometimes impacted by how big a parcel tax you have,” she said.

Board President Scott Tracy agreed.

“Charles (Heath) has looked at other school districts and that,” he said. “Part of that depends on how big the number is. If we go way high, there's going to be a big fallout.”

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