By Barbara Jones Daily News Staff Writer/from the Contra Costa Times | http://bit.ly/ymcpkx
Posted: 01/10/2012 08:00:37 PM PST :: Facing a budget deficit of more than a half-billion dollars for 2012-13, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy proposed Tuesday putting a $270-a-year parcel tax on the November ballot.
If approved by the LAUSD board, this would mark the second time in two years that the school district has sought a tax to fund local schools. Voters rejected the parcel tax in 2010.
Deasy's proposed tax would be on the same ballot as Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed initiative to raise the income tax on those making $250,000 or more a year and boost the state sales tax by a half-cent.
But Deasy was not deterred by the prospect of multiple tax proposals.
"This is nonpolitical, but by need," Deasy said in an interview. "I believe the homeowners in Los Angeles feel the pain of the cuts and care deeply about public schools. I don't think they'll let down what students deserve."Deasy said the nation's second-largest school district already has a deficit of $543 million for the new school year because of deferrals in state funding over the past five years.
That shortfall could grow by $278 million - the district's portion of a projected $4.8 billion cut to public education if California voters in November fail to pass Brown's proposed tax initiative.
If the statewide tax hikes are approved, the district would receive $237 million - which could stave off some cuts, but could not guarantee Los Angeles Unified's 550,000 students a quality education, Deasy said.
To make up the difference, he said he'll ask property owners to tax themselves, with an initial estimate of $270 per parcel a year.
Deasy's presentation to the board included the promise of "appropriate citizen oversight" of the revenue, and a plan to accommodate senior citizen homeowners living on fixed incomes. Although he didn't specify a dollar amount to the board, he later estimated he would ask members to authorize a ballot measure of $270 annually per parcel for a limited number of years.
Even if the parcel and statewide taxes are approved, Deasy said other "painful efficiencies" will have to be made, such as consolidating the eight local district offices into four and laying off administrative staff.
The budgeting process hasn't yet begun in earnest, but previous financial documents have suggested eliminating early-childhood and adult-education programs in order to funnel as much money as possible into K-12 education.
Deasy noted that the state and local tax measures will not be decided until after the start of the 2012-13 school year in August. This creates the potential for widespread layoffs and program cuts in the second semester if one or both ballot measures fail.
Los Angeles Unified in 2010 tried to pass a $100-a-year parcel tax, hoping to generate $92 million a year to cover the salaries of arts and music teachers, librarians, custodians and police officers. Nearly 53 percent of voters approved Measure E, but that was short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage - the same percentage the new parcel tax would need to be implemented.
Deasy noted that the district made little effort to get the 2010 parcel tax passed, and vowed to present the board with a strategy for its passage.
That was good news to Judy Perez, president of the local administrators' union, which raised $25,000 for the Measure E campaign. She also expressed dismay at the likelihood of losing administrators at local district offices.
"Leadership in schools is essential," she said. "The work doesn't get done without the administrative staff."
United Teachers Los Angeles will also be backing the district's effort. In recent negotiations with the district, the teachers' union signed a "statement of joint interest" promising to work with the district on new revenue sources, including a parcel tax.
School board President Monica Garcia said Deasy had briefed her and her colleagues on the district's budget situation, and it was clear that generating additional revenue was the only alternative.
"We've done more with less, we've laid off teachers and staff, we've increased class size ... and making more cuts no longer makes sense for what we're trying to do," she said.
However, Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, predicted the parcel tax will fall victim to the district's reputation for wasteful spending.
"No agency or organization has mismanaged its spending more than LAUSD," he said.
But Deasy said he's focusing on his core goals of increasing student test scores and improving high school graduation rates.
"It's the reputation of the schools that matters," he said.