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School Board Weighs Timing of Proposed Bond Measure

With two state tax measures already on November's ballot, the board explores whether this is the right time to ask voters to support a local bond measure to pay for improved facilities in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified school board agreed Wednesday to continue a discussion about whether to put a $385 million proposed bond measure on November's ballot.

said he first wants to make sure the proposed measure has enough support from local groups before the board puts it to a vote, which is expected at the Aug. 1 meeting in Malibu.

“This is going to be a critical couple of weeks in terms of building consensus and pulling together an actionable plan. I get the sense the board’s action will be determined by the work of the next couple of weeks,” Allen said.

The proposed bond, which would cost home owners $185 per year for up to 30 years (and possibly more for property owners in Malibu), would only be used for public works projects and facility improvements. The money could not be used to fund teacher or other employee salaries.

At issue is the timing of placing the bond on the same November ballot as Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 and activist Molly Munger's Proposition 38. If both tax initiatives do not pass, the school district could face up to $10 million in next year.

If both state measures fail, the district would be forced to put a parcel tax on the ballot this spring to meet operational expenses, according to estimates by the district.

Los Angeles County has to receive the request to put the proposed bond on the ballot by Aug. 10. The board needs five affirmative votes to send the measure to the county.

Two board members—Jose Escarce and Nimish Patel—said they were leaning against not supporting the bond measure. Board member Oscar de la Torre was not present.

Both Escarce and Patel agreed that the timing of the bond measure is sensitive because of the state propositions and the potential local parcel tax.

“Voters have short memories, but they remember how many times you approach them saying ‘This time we really need it,'” Patel said.

He said that if the two state propositions do not pass, he wants to save momentum for the parcel tax, which could be needed as early as this spring.

“I want to hit the ground running. Then failure won’t be an option and we have to succeed,” Patel said.

Escarce said the district has no control on what happens with the statewide propositions in November, and he feels he cannot support putting the bond on the ballot at this time.

“If I had to decide tonight, I would vote to not put the bond on,” Escarce said, adding that he wants to give a parcel tax, which would go toward the district's operating expenses, the best chance in 2013. Both men said they would keep their minds open until the Aug. 1 vote.

Laurie Liberman, vice chair of the board, said this is a unique opportunity to ask voters to support local schools.

“We have not adequately supported our facilities in years,” Liberman said.

She said there are $93 million worth of future needs for the elementary schools alone.

“The only way to fund facilities, including technology, is through a local bond measure,” Liberman said.

She said the time will likely not ever be right for a bond measure.

“I don’t really buy the arguments that we should wait. I don’t think the right time will ever come. It’s not perfect. I don’t see it getting better,” Liberman said.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, Karen Farrer of Malibu read a letter out loud from Craig Foster, of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, asking why a Malibu representative was not included in the discussions around the bond measure. ()

"If you want our support, you need to give us reasons to give you that support. You need to reach out to us. You need to give us a persuasive value proposition and then ask for our support. You have completely failed to do any of that," Foster said in the letter.

He asked that the item be placed on the agenda for the meeting in two weeks.

"If you wish to have Malibu’s support, you need to ask for that support on our soil and in our time frame," Foster wrote.

Sarah Braff, vice president of the Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, said she believes there are too many propositions on the ballot.

“That’s a lot of propositions about education, all of which are complex. It is really wrong at this time to do this. We need to wait,” Braff said.

To pass, the bond would need 55 percent voter approval. A parcel tax would need two-thirds approval, according to the school district.

Shari Davis, who was part of a citizen feasibility committee about the bond, said she believes the responsibility of funding facility improvements lies with the community.

“I do think it is very doable. I urge you to put this bond on the ballot in November,” Davis said.

Many other people spoke at the meeting. Feel free to jump in and share your perspective on this issue.

Terry July 19, 2012 at 04:21 PM
i wont be voting for any of them. let the government show some physical responsibility. not only can i not afford it as a property owner. i can tell you my tenants are begging me not to raise the rent. the government just keeps taxing and spending and borrowing. the city of malibu may be the next city to file if they continue to spend like tomorrow will never come. according to public records, one out of every 10 homeowners in malibu is behind in their mortgage payments by more than 30 days and homeowners who have purchased in the period from 2006 to 2009 are asking me to help them get property tax reductions on their homes.
Concerned Resident July 19, 2012 at 04:52 PM
I am 100% supportive of the value of public education and the contribution it makes to our city, Santa Monica, and the well-being of our society in general. I also agree that the physical plant in SMMUSD does need to be upgraded but this is about as wrong a time as you can get to ask taxpayers, even in a community as supportive of public schools as Santa Monica is, to take on more debt and responsibility for that debt. Anyone saying the timing is right is ignoring taxpayer/voter sentiment and has got it wrong. I strongly advise the board of education to keep its "powder" dry ,as Jose Escarce mentions, in case the November statewide tax initiatives fail and the school district is in substantial deficit again. Coupled with my comment about a bond issue, Craig Foster of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools says that Malibu has not been included in the discussions about the efficacy of a bond sale. I am a Santa Monica resident not a resident of Malibu but I do not understand why there isn't a dedicated seat on the board of education for a Malibu resident or at least a Malibu residents advisory committee to provide Malibu perspective to the board of education. From everything I've read, Malibu provides 1/3 of the annual real estate parcel taxes with 20% of the student population. Along with the bond issue, I would also like the board of education to explain why it persistently has ignored reasonable requests from Malibu residents to have a say in SMMUSD policies.
R Y A N July 19, 2012 at 04:58 PM
To start, SMMUSD must release Malibu schools from the double taxation (Gift Tax) on local donations to local schools. Superintendent Deasy didn't paint a full picture when he proposed the addition of the Gift Tax a decade ago. In Malibu, the "parcel-to-student ratio" is much higher than in Santa Monica. Malibu residents' direct gifts to local schools supplant what the parcel taxes disproportionally have taken out of Malibu for decades. Simply stopping the sucking now would not UNDO the economic damage; it would just STOP it. Because exemptions from the Gift Tax were crafted for certain existing groups (SAMOHI Band, right?) the policy furthers the strategic looting of Malibu taxpayers. No parcel tax will ever pass until SMMUSD ends this scheme.
Marshall Thompson July 19, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Terry, it's "fiscal" not physical. (I can't type so well myself)
Maryanne Solomon July 19, 2012 at 11:20 PM
From the story: "Two board members—Jose Escarce and Nimish Patel—said they were leaning against not supporting the bond measure. Board member Oscar de la Torre was not present." How can you be "leaning against not supporting?" What does that mean?
Claudia Schafer July 20, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Could we have just one election without some governmental department holding it's hands out for more, and using "it's for the kids" as an excuse!!! Wasn't that extra half cent sales tax supposed to put our school budgets right side up? I thought Bernie Madoff was behind bars, but it sounds like he's cooking the books here in Santa Monica. Egad - this is infuriating!
Glenn E Grab July 26, 2012 at 04:20 PM
no more money for these wasteful fools
Glenn E Grab July 26, 2012 at 04:22 PM
cities are going bankrupt and these morons think they can pass a bond issue....what planet are they from?....

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