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Long Beach school board puts parcel tax on ballot

July 21, 2009 |  5:46 pm

On the same evening that state officials announced a budget agreement, school board members in the state’s third-largest school system addressed the long-term ramifications of education funding cuts. Trustees in the Long Beach Unified School District, by a 4-0 vote Monday night, placed a parcel tax on the November ballot that would, if approved, raise $11.5 million annually for schools.

Individual property owners would pay $92 per parcel for each of the next five years. The measure would require a two-thirds plurality to be approved. Other districts, especially ones serving prosperous areas, have turned to parcel taxes to supplement school funding. But passing a parcel tax in a large or urban district — like Long Beach — could be more difficult.

A proposed parcel tax failed this year in the more economically diverse Rowland Unified School District, east of Los Angeles. That measure had the support of 52% of voters, well short of what the law requires.

The Long Beach levy would add on to taxes assessed to repay school modernization and construction bonds. Last November, Long Beach voters approved the $1.2-billion Measure K, which will cost taxpayers as much as $60 per every $100,000 of assessed property value. For a median-priced home in the school system's area, that works out to $132 a year. Voters also are still paying off the much smaller, $295-million Measure A, passed in 1999.

Money from the two construction bonds cannot be used to pay for ongoing district operations, unlike the parcel tax.

District officials aren’t yet sure how the latest news from Sacramento will affect their schools.

“We'll know more in the next few days,” said spokesman Chris Eftychiou. “We do know that LBUSD must cut as much as $100 million during the next two years … because of multibillion-dollar state cuts to education.”

In a round of cuts in April, the district slashed $24 million from a $750-million operating budget. These cuts resulted in reduced summer-school offerings and elimination of the Hi-Hill outdoor science camp in the Angeles National Forest, which elementary school students have attended since 1949, Eftychiou said.

The district also stopped filling vacancies and canceled summer recreation programs. In addition, district Supt. Christopher J. Steinhauser notified employees last month that they may face reduced compensation.

A successful parcel tax would stem some future cuts. The sales pitch to voters will include the district’s recognition as being one of the more successful urban school systems.

The district of 88,000 students serves Long Beach, Signal Hill, Catalina Island and portions of Lakewood.

-- Howard Blume

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