Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Puts Renewal of Parcel Taxes on February Ballot
BY HANS LAETZ
Malibu voters will not only decide on a presidential favorite on “Super Tuesday,” but will vote in the February 5 election on whether to retain a $346-per-parcel real estate tax for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
The vote on whether to extend the parcel tax will come on the heels of a controversial, last-minute decision by the school board two weeks ago to strip half of the bond money recommended by district staff to build new classrooms at Malibu High School, and divert those funds to replace badly dilapidated sections of Santa Monica High School.
The parcel tax renewal is viewed as critical by school backers, who say it has made the hiring of 50 teachers possible. The special tax makes up for inadequate funding from state property and income taxes, and is credited by the district for the stellar marks that students at its 17 campuses get on state tests.
Class sizes in core classes such as reading, writing and mathematics are reduced using teachers hired by parcel tax receipts, and the entire music and arts programs rely on the parcel tax.
A poll taken by the district of voters found support hovering around 70 percent for the tax measure. The poll was careful to point out that taxes would not go up if the parcel tax measure is passed by 67 percent of the electorate—it will only extend taxes that have already been approved by the voters.
But the matter will go before the Malibu electorate as it reacts to a last-minute decision by the school board to cut in half the recommended $27 million Malibu High construction budget, and instead recommend that $13.5 million of that total be channeled to bigger construction needs at the district’s 70-year-old Santa Monica High School.
Board president Kathy Wisnicki, the lone Malibu resident on the school board, was unable to attend the meeting due to an ankle injury. She told Malibu parents in an e-mail that “although the outcome was unfortunate, I believe that the district staff and I will be able to craft a solution that is acceptable to the Board and restore funding to our Malibu schools.”
Wisnicki wrote to assure parents that “district officials said Malibu parents should not assume that the entire $27 million proposed by district staff for Malibu High is lost, because as much as $40 million in bond funds is still uncommitted.”
Several Malibu High parents spoke at the meeting at Santa Monica City Hall, but were outnumbered by placard-waving Samohi parents concerned that Malibu was getting a much larger per-student share of construction monies than their kids. Nine of the 10 board members are Santa Monica residents, although 20 percent of the students attending district schools live in Malibu.
Malibu principal Mark Kelly said he also spoke at the meeting, and said afterward he found it “unfortunate that the Samohi parents pitted one group of kids against another.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Kelly said after the vote, “and the process that was set up to weigh and evaluate each project should not have been bypassed like that either.”
At issue is a proposal from district staff that $27 million be set aside for a new library at Malibu High, as well as a new science classroom wing to replace a substandard 40-year-old junior high classroom block. The board’s vote eliminated funding for the junior high classrooms.
Assistant Superintendent Mike Matthews, a former Malibu High principal, said the bond funding process has only just begun. “I want to assure Malibu residents that it is our goal and objective to get what is needed built at both of the schools.”
Matthews said district staff is only taking the first steps in finding joint-funding sources from other government agencies to subsidize multiple-use projects at both campuses, which he said will stretch construction budgets and further the district’s goal of integrating the two high schools more with surrounding communities.
The February vote will, if approved, combine two prior parcel taxes, Measure S and Measure Y, into one new tax, which has not been given a ballot designation yet. Like the prior taxes, property owners over 65 can choose to opt out of the tax (see separate story) by filing annually for an exemption.