By George B. Sánchez, Staff Writer | Los Angeles Newspaper Group
01/15/2009 - Just two months after winning approval of a $7 billion bond measure, Los Angeles Unified School District officials are considering another proposal to fund local schools.
For now, there are no details on how much a proposed parcel tax would cost homeowners or generate for the district.
But with LAUSD facing a $400 million shortfall this year and expecting chronic underfunding for years, district officials said they need more revenue to keep the quality of education from getting worse.
"It's becoming more and more apparent, based on the economic situation the district is in, that we need to look at a tax," said Superintendent Ramon Cortines.
A parcel tax would require two-thirds support from local voters and go on the 2010 ballot at the earliest, Cortines said.
The district would consult with parents, teachers and administrators and establish a committee including elected officials, chamber of commerce members and possibly United Way representatives.
In November, voters approved Measure Q, the fifth and largest school bond issue in 11 years, to build new schools and repair older ones.
Unlike the bonds, a parcel tax would supplement the district's regular operating budget, paying for things like salaries and early-childhood education.
"It has to be strictly for classrooms and schools," Cortines said.
Word of a possible new school tax amid the economic downturn and after the passage of Measure Q angered Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
"No matter how much you give them, it's never enough," Vosburgh said. "We're seeing record foreclosures. Unemployment in California is nearly 8 percent. It's unlikely voters would approve new taxes."
Before developing details on the tax proposal, Cortines said, the district must first focus on $400 million in potential cuts for the current budget year.
The midyear woes have prompted the district to target new teachers for layoffs, freeze spending for art programs and cut the free-and- reduced-price meal program in half.
Cortines agreed that talk of a new tax might seem premature so soon after passage of Measure Q, but he said voters could be supportive.
"I think we have to show signs that we are responsible and that we are not just asking for another buck."
It is not the first time school officials discussed a parcel tax.
"The last time it came up, it was dropped because it would have been competing with a bond," said Santiago Jackson, director of the district's legislative and governmental affairs office.
By waiting until 2010, district officials are hoping for legislative change that would lower the threshold from two-thirds to 55 percent to pass a new parcel tax.
In recent statewide history, voters have shown a willingness to support school taxes, even during the recession, though not always by the necessary two-thirds threshold.
In November, there were 21 school parcel-tax measures on local ballots across California, according to the League of California Cities. All but four passed, and only one received less than 55 percent.